Education

Are metal detectors coming to Manatee schools?

Here’s some of the security measures being implemented in Manatee County schools

Chairman of the School Board of Manatee County Dr. Scott Hopes said Friday after a board meeting on security concerns that additional school resource officers will be placed in every county school.
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Chairman of the School Board of Manatee County Dr. Scott Hopes said Friday after a board meeting on security concerns that additional school resource officers will be placed in every county school.

The school district is vying for a grant from the federal government that would pay for metal detectors, radios and other security measures, but the details are largely a secret.

Manatee wants to install three walk-through metal detectors per high school, two metal detectors per middle school and four machines for special events, according to a document on page 335 of Tuesday’s school board agenda.

“The units can also be positioned temporarily to provide security screening at well-attended events such as football games,” the agenda states.

The document said portable radios would improve communication between school guardians, resource officers and emergency responders. A phone application would allow teachers and other staff to report an active shooter from their smartphones, it continued.

Are the metal detectors and other security features a guarantee if the money is received? Does the grant cover the cost of both purchasing and installing the equipment? Is every public school affected?

Seeking answers from Patrick Bartholomew, the director of safety and security, a reporter contacted district spokeswoman Melissa Parker on Wednesday morning. Instead of facilitating a response, she forwarded the questions to Manatee’s record custodian, Linda Lambert.

Lambert refused to answer many of the questions, citing exemptions in state Sunshine Law related to school security, while other questions went unanswered as of Thursday afternoon. She answered one question, noting that Manatee plans to buy approximately 55 of the portable radios for “operations throughout our campuses.”

She then followed up with an email on Friday morning. It said Manatee applied for the grant and would receive an answer from the federal government in approximately 60 days.

As for the total price of both purchasing and installing the equipment, she said it was too early to provide an estimate.

The plan was listed as “Approval to Apply, Accept and Expend the COPS Grant” on Tuesday’s consent agenda, a list of agreements that can be approved with one vote and no discussion.

It said the grant totaled nearly $400,000, and it required the district to put forth approximately $133,000, bringing the project’s cost to nearly $533,000.

“This proposal will support implementation of the following evidence-based school safety interventions that have a documented need and can be readily and seamlessly integrated,” the agenda states.

Known as the School Violence Prevention Program, the grant is offered through an office within the U.S. Department of Justice. The program is offering up to $25 million for increased security at nationwide schools in 2019.

The Florida Department of Education approved a $1.7 million grant for security upgrades in Manatee earlier this year. While the district originally planned to use a bulk of the money to install fences at 31 schools, it reallocated the money to instead buy hundreds of surveillance cameras for 10 locations.

Securing a campus with fences, security cameras and metal detectors is often referred to as “school hardening, a key recommendation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

Florida legislators created the group after last year’s shooting in Parkland, which left 17 people dead and 17 others injured. The committee grouped hardening measures into three categories, ranging from Level One to Level Three upgrades.

Metal detectors were listed in the “other” category, denoting the most expensive and time consuming upgrades.

“More funding is needed to ensure adequate school security and prevention measures, but cost will always be a factor in school-hardening decisions,” the committee reported. “Therefore, districts need to establish priorities.”

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