Collier schools react to Parkland shooting with increased security
The Collier Sheriff’s Office stationed additional deputies at the county's public and private schools Thursday to ensure the safety of students and faculty after Wednesday’s school shooting in Parkland.
The Sheriff's Office declined to state how many extra deputies were in position, noting the information was “tactical.”
The Wednesday shooting attack in Broward County killed 17 people. Authorities said a 19-year-old man used a legally purchased AR-15-style rifle in the attack.
Just 45 days into the new year, more than 420 children in the U.S. have been killed or injured in gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a research group that tracks and verifies gun-related incidents.
Immokalee Community School teacher Anne Marie Morgiewicz said she spent the day worrying about her students and ran through drills with her fourth-grade class; she taught them to hide quietly in the closet or play dead.
Morgiewicz said she was fed up with gun violence in America.
“This time it’s really bothering me,” she said, noting the proximity of the shooting. “Enough is enough.”
Morgiewicz has run a pen pal program between her students and a Sandy Hook Elementary School class since a mass shooting at that school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. The Daily News wrote about the special relationship last year.
Morgiewicz’s class had just received a batch of letters from the Connecticut students last week.
“My heart hurts for everyone,” she said.
In an email to Morgiewicz and other Immokalee Community School staff, Principal Zuleika Quintero said she “woke up a bit perturbed this morning” as a result of the sad news.
Quintero said the school would hold several active shooter drills in the coming weeks and reminded staff of visitor regulation policies.
Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton also addressed the incident in an email sent to parents Wednesday evening. Patton told families to expect increased security on campuses and offered recommendations on how to help students cope with the situation.
The suggestions, which came from the National Association of School Psychologists, suggested parents reassure students that schools are safe and to give them space to express their emotions if they choose to.
The message also reminded parents to review safety protocols with their children, both at school and at home, and to limit the amount of time students spend watching media coverage of the event.
“Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children,” the email read.
“Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.”
Collier schools spokeswoman Jennifer Kupiec declined a request for a phone interview with a school psychologist but said additional resources would be available to address needs of students and staff.
Many parents said the Parkland mass shooting was unsettling, but the Daily News did not hear reports about students staying home out of safety concerns. Kupiec said student attendance was slightly higher than last Thursday.
Sandra Llorca is a substitute teacher who graduated in 1994 from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where Wednesday's shooting occurred. Although the incident left her “utterly in shock,” she said she wasn’t concerned about going to work or sending her children to public school Thursday.
Collier public schools are extremely secure, she noted, as visitors must be buzzed in to gain entry.
“And just because it happened on the other coast doesn’t mean it will spur someone to do the same to our schools,” she said.
Llorca said she felt confident she would know how to protect herself and her students in case of an active shooter, as she has run through drills.
Collier school officials declined to state how many active-shooter drills are conducted each year, citing concerns the information could compromise student and staff safety.
In an emailed statement, Patton assured that the district’s safety procedures are practiced multiple times throughout the year.
But some students said they weren’t completely pleased with how the district and Sheriff’s Office have handled security threats in the past.
Naples High senior Luis Nicacio said he felt a little uneasy about going to school Thursday, given a recent incident at a Collier school where a student who wrote a hit list did not get arrested. The boy, a Barron Collier High School student, was sent to the David Lawrence Center, where doctors cited concerns about his mental health, according to Collier Sheriff's Office reports.
The boy also had written a detailed shooting plan and suicide note but said it was a joke, reports state.
“Shootings happen all the time now. These things aren’t jokes anymore,” Nicacio said.
Lorrie Crisci, a Barron Collier parent, said when she learned of the Parkland shooting, she couldn’t help but think back to the hit list, which surfaced earlier this month, and wonder whether she should keep her son home.
“It’s a little bit unnerving,” she said. “It’s just so close to home. I can’t imagine if it was my kid.”