TAMPA, Florida - Since the Sandy Hook massacre in December where 20 children and six adults were killed, school district leaders have been looking at ways to make schools safer. The Hillsborough School Board paid a national school safety expert $8,500 to review its plan. Today, the school board heard his recommendations.
Michael Dorn is well known in his field. He recently did a similar analysis of the Sandy Hook shooting. He says school violence is not new. It's been around since the days of the one room school house.
Dorn gives Hillsborough good marks for not throwing money at the problem and making good use of its resources, but he says it's time the district take the next step.
"It is astounding that you have not had anyone shot in the schools. Your district has been extraordinary," Dorn says to the school board. " This isn't by accident. It's a number of things put in place over the last decade: school security officers, SRO, it's what principals are doing, and the anti bullying programs."
Dorn says Hillsborough's school resource officer program serves as a model he recommends other school districts use. Dorn says, "The way you are doing it needs to continue. SRD, SRO, school security -- that's on track. It needs to stay that way."
Dorn recommends expanding the school resource officer program into the remaining 130 elementary schools permanently. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia made the same recommendation to the board to add armed school security officers at elementary schools. The school board voted down Elia's proposal over costs concerns.
Dorn says, "If you told me you want to put officers in all elementary schools because of Sandy Hook, I'd say that's not a good reason to do it. I'd do it because of the broader range of things, looking it as a way to reduce bullying, improve student supervision."
Since Sandy Hook, Hillsborough elementary schools have had a law enforcement presence, one most parents support.
"It gives people peace of mind," says Katherine Lathrom, a parent.
But Dorn says an armed officer on campus is only part of the solution; he says the district needs to train teachers and students in emergency situations.
Dorn says, "It's not about the principal being trained and empowered, it's about all staff."
"You are doing a lot well very. Be proud of what you have accomplished," Dorn reassures the school board.
Dorn also recommends the district hire a full-time emergency manager. He's is concerned about student safety on school buses and a lack of school resource officers to fill vacancies left when officers call out sick or are on vacation.
Several school board members say they'd like to see more money spent on mental health and anti-bullying programs than adding more armed security officers in elementary schools.