POINT OF VIEW: Achieving student safety requires working together

Several initiatives are currently underway in the School District of Palm Beach County to address the issue of safety. First, a team of experts from the Council of Great City Schools has visited campuses, interviewed staff and district police, and inspected our safety mechanisms and protocols against best practices of large urban districts. Hundreds of security enhancements are in process and scheduled to be made during the summer and thereafter to correct deficiencies.

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Depending on the campus, this could include cameras, doors, entry systems, additions to fencing, changes to playground areas and so much more. The district goal is to have every campus be a single point of entry campus. This takes time in our older schools, as we first have to bring the building up to current building codes as we change the structures to create a single point of entry.

The state has mandated that we have a law enforcement officer at each of our schools, even though the Legislature did not provide adequate funding for us to do so. The district will have to kick in $1.7 million to make up the deficit. Nevertheless, the district is taking steps to comply with the mandate.

Some suggest schools are not safe. I suggest there are no schools anywhere that are safe from the conditions of the heart, whereby students are so broken that they shoot up the same school they attend and shoot at the same students they share classrooms and lunch tables with each day. A student will spend about 1,000 hours at school and 10 times that at home, yet schools are held responsible for their brokenness, their mental health, their behavior and, ultimately, their crimes.

Can we ever make students safe from the problems of society, poor parenting, mental illness, drug addiction, neglect, social media and a culture of media violence? We certainly can’t do it alone. We are working on every solution within our control, but who will check the teenager’s social media tonight? Who will take the phone away and check the bedroom to look for journals that contain homicidal thoughts? Who ensures that parents who own guns lock them up? Who will make sure that the child is not playing video games where the object of the game is to shoot and kill?

Education, in particular our public education system, is what made this country the most prosperous on earth. But public education is no longer a priority in this country. We live in Florida where education funding is 48th out of 50 states, and school districts like ours with 180 schools and 173,000 children are asked to take schools that were built as inviting community facilities, and turn them into prisonlike buildings where the kids are the inmates and the visitors are the bad guys.

I’m shocked but grateful that each year we have applicants for teaching positions. But it’s becoming more difficult each year to attract enough qualified candidates to take on the awesome responsibility of teaching our children – and our state Legislature doesn’t seem to care enough to provide school districts in Florida with adequate funding to operate despite the fact that the Florida Constitution mandates that it do so.

Before people publicly opine on the condition of the schools — especially those in my district — they should have a true understanding of what is fact and what is fiction.


Editor’s note: Frank Barbieri is a member of the Palm Beach County School Board.

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