Patrols increased at Manatee Schools

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 18, 2012 

PARRISH -- Security at Manatee schools was heightened Monday as students returned to classes following the murder of 20 children in a Connecticut public school.

The temporary increase in police patrols at all Manatee County public elementary schools is just one of a number of changes being considered.

School personnel, parents and law enforcement officials Monday discussed other safety ideas including reinstatement of uniformed, armed deputies as school resource deputies to elementary schools.

"We will have school resource deputies and zone deputies in the parking lots and around the schools as often as possible," Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube said. The sheriff's office, Bradenton Police Department and Palmetto Police Department are providing the extra security.

The increased patrols will continue throughout this week before students go on Christmas break and will be reevaluated when school reopens Jan. 8, said Dave Bristow, a sheriff's office spokesman.

Attendance in district schools was fairly normal Monday after Friday's shooting, said Margi Nanney, a school district spokeswoman,

But while parents may have sent their children to school, some were concerned.

Mike Rio, the principal at Virgil Mills Elementary in Parrish, received four calls asking him not to have his teachers talk about the shooting.

"They said they wanted to handle it themselves, which I totally respect," Rio said.

The school district received "about a dozen" calls from parents who had questions or comments regarding school safety, Nanney said.

Rio invited Robert Connor, a member of the school's 25-person School Advisory Council and Tracey Hubert, president of the Parent Teacher Organization, into his office at 3 p.m. to review emergency procedures and talk about ways to enhance safety.

Similar meetings to review safety measures took place in elementary schools county wide Monday.

Both Connor and Hubert agreed, when their meeting was over, that although the elementary school's safety plan is air-tight, the Connecticut shooting brought a new reality. This was a shooter who blasted his way into a school. They discussed bullet-proof glass, metal detectors and locking all classroom doors.

"You can get bulletproof glass, but what do you do in the case of a fire?" Connor said.

"It's a balancing act," Hubert said. "You do one thing, it impacts another."

"I don't think a metal detector will help in a similar situation," Rio said. "If you lock classroom doors, teachers have to get up and unlock them repeatedly. Not only does it cut into academic time, I feel the fear it breeds keeps children from learning."

Connor said the best outcome in a situation like the one in Connecticut is to minimize injury and death, unfortunately not to be able to prevent it.

All agreed having a uniformed police officer in school might be the best safety upgrade for Mills and other schools.

"If a shooter knew that someone possessing similar firepower was at the school, it could be a deterrent," Rio said.

"There is nothing like having an authorized, deputized officer of the law in your school," Connor said. "They are trained to handle things in a heartbeat. They have the ability to take control of a situation. It would also send a positive message to staff and students."

Steube received numerous emails over the weekend requesting that he reinstate sheriff's office deputies as school resource officers in all 40-plus elementary schools.

It's an issue worth discussion, Rio, Connor and Hubert said.

"That's a budget issue that would have to be taken up by the Manatee County Commission and School Board," Steube said.

Years ago, there were five school resource officers shared by 30 elementary schools, but today, due to budget cuts, there are no school resource officers in elementary schools, several in middle schools and one for each high school, Steube added.

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