Students return to school in Miami-Dade County

Parents welcome tighter security measures following Parkland shooting

By Trent Kelly - Reporter, Ian Margol - Reporter

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - It was back to the grind Monday for the Miami-Dade County Public School District's 349,000 students.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho started his day at the district's John Schee Transportation Center in Northwest Miami-Dade.

He spent some time handing out free breakfast meals to the more than 1,000 bus drivers before they hit the roads to pick up the students.

Carvalho said the district spends the entire summer preparing for this day, which includes a run-through training, or dry run, for the bus drivers, allowing them to learn all the ins and outs of their new bus routes.

They also hold drills on what to do during an emergency situation. This is a massive undertaking, considering the district employs thousands of bus drivers, who are out on the roads every single day.

"We have the largest school bus fleet in the world," Carvalho said. "We transport 52,000 kids every single day -- close to 1,000 bus routes. That means we have 1,000 bus drivers out on the roads, delivering the kids safely."

The superintendent boarded one of the buses Monday morning in Hialeah and from there, he headed to about six schools across the district to meet with students and staff -- part of his plan to make sure everyone starts off the new school year on the right foot. 

Meanwhile, the district said it spent nearly $130 million over the summer on hardening security at its schools.

That includes adding more than 15,000 security cameras on several campuses, as well as negotiating with various cities and municipalities to make sure a police officer is in place at every campus.

It's an investment nearly every parent said is well worth the cost, although they acknowledge this is just the start. 

"You know, just making sure he's safe is one of the biggest concerns. Just making sure he learns, and there's good staffing at the school to learn," one parent, Yovany Rodriguez, said. "They're making improvements. You know, we're getting there. It's better than obviously how the school year was last year."

Employees at South Hialeah Elementary School, for example, have now started a new check-in system for visitors, requiring them to show an ID and go through screening in the front office before being allowed to enter the rest of the campus.

Visitors must then wear a pass while they are on campus.

Another change to Miami-Dade County public schools has been reducing the points of entry to each campus following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

On Monday, Carvalho, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, school district police Chief Ed Lopez and City of Miami police Chief George Colina went to some of the schools to ensure everything went smoothly.

"It's impossible to have a single point of entry at every school site, but we've drastically reduced it to ensure that each and every person is screened, vetted and ensure that the people that are supposed to be on campus are the appropriate people to pick up their kids," Lopez said. 

"We just ask all of the parents to be patient with the new procedures because, ultimately, it's about keeping our kids safe and luckily everything -- it couldn't have gone any better, couldn't have gone any better," Colina added. 

The Miami-Dade Schools Police Department is working on increasing its staffing so they don't need to rely on these sorts of partnerships in the future. But until then, City of Miami police and other police departments said they will be there to help within their respective cities and municipalities.

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