Bradenton, Florida - While many Bay area schools have stepped up law enforcement presence at elementary schools, one school district is taking an extra step to help ensure student safety.
The Manatee School District is having sheriff's deputies and police do a thorough security check of all 55 schools and 11 charter schools, looking for any break in security and school districts officials say they are committed to making improvements.
"Some incidents, you can't predict or protect from," says Captain Warren Merriman with the Bradenton Police Department. But Merriman says some incidents you can try to prevent.
"Work our way in, check if doors are secure, windows are secure throughout the school."
Starting this week, Bradenton Police are giving each school a security check. In one 4th grade classroom, officers spot keys left unattended in a door. Officers recommend keeping blinds open; this way there are more eyes on what's going on outside, looking for anything or anyone out of place. Another recommendation: remove a teacher's name from the front door a couple of months into the school year.
Officers are getting a refresher course to.
"We equip officers with school familiarization programs. Officers in each zone they are assigned knows the schematics of the school and studies them," says Merriman.
"Sheriff deputies, police... they are the experts. We trust their recommendations," says Interim Superintendent David Gayler. The superintendent says despite the district's tight budget, safety is a priority as is educating kids.
"Education programs for kids will not suffer because of this," says Gayler.
Tanya Long says her 8-year-old daughter's school follows good safety protocol. "They always check ID before they allow you in the front door. All doors are locked at 8:30. You have to go through the front office to get into the school."
Long's solution to safer schools: "They need to have school resource officers at schools full time."
Manatee schools are not alone. Other Bay area school boards will be discussing the issue of school security at upcoming meetings. Hillsborough will be discussing it next week. Pinellas school district officials say parents can expect an automated phone message from the superintendent of schools Tuesday night on the topic.
The Manatee Sheriff's office will begin doing unannounced security checks of schools in the county starting next week. The school board expects a report of their findings and recommendations by February 28.