Letter to Sarasota County School Board Members: “Each of you will have responsibility.”
Dear Sarasota County School Board Members
As many of you are aware, a letter I sent to School Board Member Tom Edwards highlighted the fact that you were all considering a policy that will undoubtedly increase risk to both students and staff within our school district.
At the last board meeting, discussion arose as to why I only sent this letter to Mr. Edwards. Please know, he was the only board member to call me directly and ask for my professional position on the safety matter of such importance. I appreciated him doing so, but I was also perplexed in that no other board member reached out to me, despite the fact that all of the board members are aware that I live in this community and have served as a national school safety expert for over 25 years.
I have worked with many of you in the past in safety related issues, including Board Chair Bridget Ziegler, with whom I have appeared on numerous news stations regarding safety issues.
That said, I noticed recently that the posted policy regarding this matter has not changed, and that the recommendation is to move forward and allow this safety concern to move forward without even discussing amendments that were discussed at the last meeting.
Kudos to Tom Edwards and Robyn Marinelli for their votes of NO. I applaud Miss Marinelli‘s careful thought to change her position in light of the increased risk. I also applaud my school, safety colleague, and board member Tim Enos for recommending increased screening of those on campus to Level II and even being open to further amendments that can reduce risks.
However, I did not see those amendments contained in the proposed policy moving forward. I hope that is just an error and that these discussed changes will be corrected and included. This matter is even more of a concern, and may be best to put on pause, in light of the fact that your school district police chief was just removed from office.
What would happen if lockdowns happened during parent drops?
Another issue that was never discussed at the workshop or the board meeting is the fact that your current school safety operational plan would also have to be amended to address such things as lockdowns and emergencies that could occur in the morning hours well, there are many parents in the hallways.
What is your plan for a school that goes into lockdown during that morning parent drop? According to policy, your teachers would have to immediately lock their doors and secure their classrooms. What would happen to the many parents in the hallway?
Some of them may have children already in those classrooms. Would they be denied entry to be with their children? Would their child be looking into the hallway to see their parent being denied access to them during a high trauma time? While the likelihood of a mass school shooting remains low, schools routinely have lockdowns for various reasons. Many occur during morning arrivals and dismissals.
I completely understand that change is sometimes very difficult to understand and comprehend, especially when it comes to safety of our children. Who would’ve thought that you’d ever see a day where everyone has to be searched and identified at the entrance to Walt Disney World, the happiest place on earth?
The School Safety Advocacy Council completely understands and supports parent involvement. Mr. Enos can verify that as one of our advisory board members. However, that extra 2-3 minute walk to classrooms, gyms and portable classrooms is certainly not worth the increased risk to our staff.
Parent drop policy “the biggest decision ever” regarding staff, student safety
I also was perplexed to hear board members state that if a parent violates the policy, they will be banned from walking their child to class. How is the SARASOTA SCHOOL DISTRICT prepared to handle the complexities of a policy like that?
Does it even have a policy to address that? Who will manage that process? Will school police be issuing trespass warnings to those who violate this policy? Managing who can now walk children to class and who cannot will be a complex issue that I do not believe has even been discussed.
In my over 20 years in Sarasota County, this might possibly be the biggest decision that has ever been contemplated impacting the safety of our children and staff. I appeal to each of you to apply the brakes, and take the needed time to really think about this decision. Each of you will have responsibility in the outcomes of this.
This matter should absolutely be turned back over to a school safety committee for a review on this and many other issues that have been discussed on this matter before moving forward. I assume a district of this size has such an important committee?
As I have offered in the past, I’d be happy to assist in this at no cost to the district. It is my way of giving back to school District that has been very good to my two children.
FYI, for the past 17 years I have served on the youth safety and justice committee with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. I can tell you that most Law Enforcement Executives would agree: if an emergency were to occur during these hours of drop-off (which many do across the nation), having all these adults in hallways of the school would add complexities and risk to their response.
I feel in my heart that each of you know what the right decision is.
Curtis S. Lavarello, Executive Director