Hillsborough students may find new security in place on first day of class

6:09 PM, Aug 16, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - Tampa Bay area students head back to school next week and since the Sandy Hook incident in December, more attention has been placed on school security.     

Local law enforcement agencies have had school resource officers and teachers go through training this summer.  Law enforcement officials say they are waiting on a Sandy Hook report to determine what they'll to do differently in the future. Meanwhile, Hillsborough schools are working on upgrading security.

Principal Paul Gansemer welcomes students and parents during open house at Orange Grove Middle Magnet School and as students look for their new classroom, they'll find new security in place.

Gansemer says, "It's about the safety of our children."

During her back-to-school press conference, Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the district has updated each school's security plan.

"We want schools to be a friendly place but we want school to be safe."  

The district is spending $1.6 million in upgrades to increase controlled access to campuses. Elia says the district has completed 85% of the work the rest should be done within six weeks.

Orange Grove has a black iron gate that blocks each entrance to the school building, but it allows anyone to leave. But the school's new principal says to enter the school, there's only one way in: that's the front gate and you have to be buzzed in.

"We have a button to push and a camera here as they push. Inside there's a screen that buzzes. It's a doorbell sound. We can see who is out here."

Gansemer says the office person is able to question the person who is at the gate, ask why they are there and decide if they should be allowed in. 

The visitor is still required to go to the front office and check in, present their driver's license or state id and get a visitor's pass.

Nicole Charlot's daughter is an 8th grader at Orange Grove and says the new security puts her at ease. She says, "I definitely feel my child is more secure here. I like the idea of the camera at the front of the gate. They have access to who comes to the gate."

The new security system at some schools means getting to the front office will take longer. Nicole says, "Let them be frustrated for our kids' safety, all of our kids' safety."

Middle schools and high schools have school resource officers, but most elementary schools do not. School officials say it comes down to money. 

Superintendent Elia says district leaders are working on that problem and the school board will have a workshop soon on school security. In the meantime, law enforcement officials say they will continue to have a presence at elementary schools either in uniform or plain clothes the time of day will vary.

The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office has applied for a $1.2 million federal grant to add 15 SRO's at elementary schools. Sheriff officials say they will learn by September 30 if they will be awarded the grant.

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