FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest school district in the nation, starts its first day of the 2019-20 school year Wednesday. But volunteers with the Broward County League of Cities' public safety task force are concerned about the district's preparedness.
About 271,500 students and 175,000 adult students are returning to the classrooms of nearly 90 charter schools and more than 200 schools, 17 centers and three technical colleges. There are 136 elementary schools, 37 middle schools and 33 high schools.
"As we start school tomorrow, it is imperative that we find funding sources to ensure there is an SRO (school resource officer) in every single public school," said Sunrise Mayor Michael J. Ryan, a task force volunteer.
The task force released an updated report and a list of recommendations on Tuesday. The long list of task force participants includes the mayors of Parkland, Weston, Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes and Davie and experts in law enforcement and mental health.
Among their concerns were the need to increase school safety personnel staffing, the "vulnerability of portable buildings," and "funding for mental health resources in the areas of child and adult prevention
as well as post-crisis support."
The district is welcoming the estimated 446,500 students exactly six months after the first anniversary of the 2018 Valentine's Day massacre that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The tragedy prompted new efforts to increase security and improve the way the district handles the cases of students who need mental health treatment and have special education needs. Florida law now requires schools to have an armed law enforcement officer or trained armed guardian.
According to the task force's report, the district didn't have the ability to comply with the law
for the start of the 2018/19 school year without implementing the guardian program, which was established last year and allows school employees to be armed on campus.
"The safety measures that we have put in place in Broward County are substantial, significant, and we are a far safer district than we have ever been," Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told Local 10 News on Monday.
The Broward County League of Cities task force wants more to be done to address the students' mental health treatment needs. Task force members are urging the Broward County School Board to provide more counselors, social workers and psychologists.
"Trauma is not just for mass events," Ryan said. "Trauma, for some students, occurs in their daily and family lives."
There have been some technological updates at the state and local level to improve communication. Members of the law enforcement community are asking students, teachers and administrators to increase vigilance in identifying threats.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is encouraging students to use the FortifyFL app on their mobile phones. The app makes it easy for students who wish to remain anonymous to quickly report tips to school officials, local law enforcement agencies and state-level officials.
Students can include photos and videos in their FortifyFL reports. The app is available at both the App Store and on Google Play. The funding for the app is part of the implementation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
Broward Sheriff's Office deputies will be running their Real Time Crime Center, a centralized technology center that has been in operation since January. The center allows RTCC detectives to monitor live video feeds from the public schools and give instant information to the deputies in the field.