BOCA RATON – Echoing a call for improved security at schools across the country, Boca Raton students urged city and school district leaders to improve active shooter drills, install bulletproof windows and enforce identification badges on campus, a city study reports.
Boca’s Community Advisory Panel held round-table discussions with middle and high school students in April in response to the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the mirror side of the Palm Beach-Broward County line.
The goal was to identify weaknesses in school security and ask students for suggested improvements.
“These students brought some amazing solutions,” said Eric Gooden, chair of Boca’s Community Advisory Board.
The board interviewed about 50 students just weeks before another school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas left 10 dead. The event only bolstered a national push for comprehensive school safety improvements that began with a wave of activism in Parkland.
“The sense of security in schools has been compromised,” said John Carter, vice chair of Boca Raton’s Community Advisory Board. “I believe we have an obligation to bring back a sense of security.”
In reality, hardening schools and adding security measures isn’t a city decision. The Palm Beach County School District would make those changes, and already is considering a laundry list of school security upgrades.
Boca Raton students are best equipped to identify security risks because they know the campuses better than administrators, Carter said. “Students see the open gate, they see where people can sneak in and out, they see the security lapses.”
Students said they were often asked to participate in fire drills - preparation for a rare occurrence in Florida schools. But they wanted more consistent and frequent active shooter drills, with detailed instructions on how to react during the threat of on-campus gun violence, the report says.
Some students called for metal detectors. Others asked that “strangers” not be able to roam campuses without visitor badges or school IDs, the report says.
Students also shared concerns beyond school shooting anxiety. They described “mental health issues” in schools and asked for resources and administrative action for bullying, harassment and threatening acts on-campus.
The school district in partnership with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office released a mobile app, called Student Protect, that allows kids to anonymously report bullying and suspicious behavior. The tips go directly the sheriff’s office.
In December, Boca Raton invested $10,000 in a program that offers free group mental health counseling to students at Boca Raton High and Spanish River High. The program is run by nonprofit Faulk Center for Counseling, based in Boca Raton.
Crowding at most Boca Raton public schools only exacerbated security fears, the report says. Most of Boca’s schools enroll more students than they were built to hold. Before the Parkland shooting, Boca Raton was focused on finding room for its growing student population, even identifying and donating city land to the school district for a new elementary schools.
Conversations pivoted to protecting the many schools the city schools already enroll not long afterward.