Given a budget approaching $1 Billion – and the dangerous times in which we live – one would think Volusia County Schools would have both the means and motivation to live up to their sacred obligation to protect our precious children.
Like many of you, I have young family members who attend district schools, so imagine my utter horror when I learned of two high profile security breaches this week.
The first involved a 13-year old student at Galaxy Middle School in Deltona who was arrested after he threatened to shoot up the school while on campus – something that was reported by a parent – not school officials.
Then, an armed and intoxicated intruder with an “extensive criminal record” walked onto the campus at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange – completely unchallenged – before entering an occupied classroom.
According to reports, “Officials said the teacher activated his emergency button located inside the classroom which said to send assistance there immediately. The school was not put on lockdown and there was no code red call made. A spokesman with the school district said at least some security protocol was not followed.”
Perhaps most disturbing was Interim Superintendent Tim Egnor’s cavalier response after some 2,500 students and staff at Spruce Creek had a very close call.
Speaking to the News-Journal’s Education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Egnor said, “To convert (campuses) into minimum security prisons, which is the reality of this situation, it involves a whole level of thinking that is very different than what we’re used to. It is very hard to prevent with 100% certainty unless you just had a ring of security people hand-in-hand around the entire 10 acres.”
“There is a certain futility to the notion if you think any place could be 100% safe.”
He later described the personal and systemic failures that permitted an armed drunk free access to the campus as, “. . .just a comedy of errors. . .”
According to Mr. Egnor, we can take comfort in knowing the district is going to “learn” from its mistakes.
That type of organizational growth only occurs where professional standards and the concept of responsibility and accountability actually mean something. . .
Look, this lackadaisical approach to our children’s safety is nothing new.
Last summer, after four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who had been appointed to oversee the state mandated Guardian program at the time.
Two of the three couldn’t qualify for the position they were charged with managing. . .
I sounded the klaxon, but nothing changed.
In my view, the credibility and vigilance of administrators is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in required for effective security planning, so I asked for the names and qualifications of those appointed by then Superintendent Tom Russell to provide for the safety and security of students and staff members.
Last July, I received the following information from Greg Aiken, the district’s Chief Operating Officer, which read, in part:
“I have 22.5 years of military experience and 15 years in the School District where 14 of those years has been building and managing the safety and security program for the district. I am a certified FEMA and TEEX Adjunct Instructor for the past 10 years teaching all facets of emergency management all over the US.”
“We have identified three (3) employees that will have the duties as the School Safety Specialist to ensure we have back-ups when the others are on vacation or out sick.”
When I finally received the public records, I found that one of our school security experts began his career as a Band Director and most recently served as an ESE supervisor and assistant principle at schools in the district.
It is my understanding that this individual is no longer responsible for school security.
The bulk of the other “security specialist’s” law enforcement experience was limited to serving as an administrative secretary at the FBI’s New York field office. . .
According to her LinkedIn page – she remains the district’s Safety and Security Specialist.
Frankly, I don’t know who in the hierarchy at the district’s Ivory Tower of Power is actually responsible for our children’s safety today – do you?
In my view, it’s time for the Volusia County School Board to pull their heads out of their ass – hold someone personally responsible for these glaring security lapses – then find a professional security director who actually knows something about “building and managing” an effective safety and security program for the thousands of students and staff who deserve better.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood was right, “He could’ve had a gun. He could’ve had a grenade. He could’ve had anything. After all we’ve gone through … all the training, the guardians, technology, it just goes to show it’s only as good as the people you put in place to follow it.”
In fact, a true security expert recently opined to me that the security failures at Spruce Creek and Galaxy Middle read like an excerpt from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report.
If, after 14-years of building and managing the safety and security program for the district, Mr. Aiken’s wholly inadequate protocols still permit an armed intruder to saunter onto a school campus and take up residence in an occupied classroom – while active threats go unreported to law enforcement – perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the district’s priorities and the effectiveness of certain senior administrators. . .
Superintendent Egnor should know that you can’t “retrain” a sense of urgency, situational awareness and attention to detail into people who already hold the awesome responsibility for safety and security – they either have it, or they don’t.
Given the serious events of last week, those ultimately responsible for our children’s safety – the Volusia County School Board – shouldn’t wait until a new superintendent is seated to begin a top-to-bottom review of the district’s clearly ineffectual security program.
In the preface to their comprehensive report to the Governor on the atrocity at Parkland, the Public Safety Commission wrote:
“Accountability starts at the top of every organization, and all leaders have an obligation to ensure not only that the law is followed, but that effective policies and best practices are implemented. Even after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and the implementation of new Florida law requiring certain safety measures, there remains non-compliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles in Florida’s K-12 schools. All stakeholders—school districts, law enforcement, mental health providers, city and county governments, funding entities, etc. — should embrace the opportunity to change and make Florida schools the safest in the nation. There must be a sense of urgency—and there is not, across-the-board—in enhancing school safety.”