The Manatee County School Board is meeting in an executive session Friday to discuss safety and security. Citing Florida Statute 281.301, which exempts information about security systems from public record, the meeting was not open to the public.
Various law enforcement officials in the county were also in the meeting, which began at 10 a.m. and was ongoing as of early afternoon.
“(District officials are) already planning further meetings with other law enforcement agencies as we move forward. The meeting today with the school board members and district staff is on top of those meetings and to make plans for how are we going to handle these security measures moving forward,” School District of Manatee County communications director Mike Barber said.
The meeting comes after several threats over the last week have placed multiple Manatee County schools on lockdowns. Six students have been arrested in connection with making some of the threats. Barber said there have been more than a dozen threats to Manatee County Schools and all were investigated by law enforcement.
“We had situations where students would be walking about the halls and talking about the threats and they would overhear the conversations and report them,” Barber said. “They were quickly discounted.”
He declined to go into further detail about other threats.
“It is astonishing to us that young people don’t realize the gravity of these situations,” Barber said.
Thursday night, the school district sent out a recorded call to parents of middle and high school students telling them their children could not bring backpacks to school Friday morning, a move also prompted by the series of recent threats.
The call said the “extra stress surrounding our schools this week has had a taxing toll on school administrators and staff, as well as local law enforcement officials,” and asked all middle and high school students to leave their backpacks at home.
Barber said the restriction was only in effect for Friday. Students who brought backpacks to school were asked to drop them in a designated area until they leave for the day. Barber said he has not been made aware of any issues with students bringing backpacks Friday.
In the days prior, officials have been using security wands to check bags.
“Over the last week it has been extremely taxing on our school district employees, school staff and on law enforcement as well. They are investing a lot of time and resources investigating these threats and providing additional presence in and around our schools. They’ve been extremely helpful but it’s wearing and tearing on them as well as on school district staff,” Barber said.
Barber said schools have a department dedicated to counseling students that has provided teachers and staff with a list of questions to engage students in talking to issues like violence and security.
“Everything we’re doing this week is geared toward making sure our students and our staff are safe,” Barber said. “It’s been a period of extremely heightened anxiety not only on students but parents and school employees as well. But we’re looking forward to hopefully this calming down a little bit so we can move forward and do whatever measures we need to to make our schools safe.”