Orange County mothers create SAFE group to share school safety ideas
'We can't afford to wait anymore,' mom who helped start group says
ORLANDO, Fla. – It has been exactly one month since a gunman shot and killed 15 students and two teachers and injured 16 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, students and parents, teachers and lawmakers here in Florida and nationwide have focused their attention on how to make schools safer in their own districts.
A group of Orange County moms has banded together with that sole mission in mind.
They've started a grassroots effort called SAFE - which stands for their support of safe zones, accountability, first line of defense and emergency alert systems to be considered for their kids' schools.
"We feel that it’s time to take human error out of the equation and tighten up our schools, so that our kids can actually go there and focus on getting an education," Katie Leccese said.
Between the four mothers in the group, they have 14 kids attending Orange County Schools. Several of these moms met while they were dropping their kids off at the bus stop, but now, instead of just planning play dates, they are planning proactive, immediate measures they'd like to present to district decision makers.
They've even gone to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers about their plan.
"We learned that a lot of representatives - Republicans, Democrats - they're on our side," Tiffany Womack said. "They're listening to what we're saying."
Since the attack in Parkland, these moms have been scouring the internet and making calls across the country to see what's out there. They've created a website to share their ideas with other parents in other districts.
They've also started a petition to get state funding for specific school security measures.
The passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act has only strengthened their cause. The new law will provide more than $400 million to be put toward school security and mental health.
But these moms want to know how that money will be spent - especially in the Orange County Public Schools district, one of the largest in the state.
"Parents need to understand, you can't just trust in the system, you have to be part of the system," Rhonda Pelak said.
"In the end, we're moms," said Stacie Archer. "And we are motivated by the love of our children and the safety of our children."
The moms say their mission is to find items that could buy time for students, faculty and staff should an attacker ever strike. The goal is to create a deterrent that could keep the assailant out for at least five to six minutes - enough time for first responders to get there and neutralize the threat.
Below are three of their top choices:
JustinKase - A steel door securing device created by a high school student in Wisconsin. The device can be slipped under a door, secured and can prevent a door from being pushed or kicked in.
Alertpoint - A school crisis management system that consists of a school card key/badge equipped with a panic button that can alert the school and authorities to a specific threat or other crisis immediately. It also uses overhead lights and a mobile app that can provide everyone with information of exactly where the threat or crisis is happening.
School Guard Glass - Specially designed glass panels and locks that can withstand everything from a barrage of bullets to an attack with a hammer or baseball bat, or attackers trying to kick their way in.
"These are three quick, easy, affordable installation things we can do in our classroom right now," said Archer. "They're easy, they are one-time expenses."
"I've seen this glass stop bullets before," said Matt Jacobsohn, who is with School Guard Glass, the makers of the bullet-resistant products. "I've seen it stop 9 mm rounds, I've seen it stop 40 caliber rounds, your handguns."
Jacobsohn travels around the country, putting on live demonstrations for law enforcement, businesses and school district decision-makers.
He met personally with News 6 and the SAFE moms to discuss how their products could be used in school buildings here. Jacobsohn says the company’s number one goal is to prevent, or at least slow down, an attacker's ability to get inside. Jacobsohn says their protective glass is already being used in about 1,000 schools across the country, including Sandy Hook elementary.
"It is extremely strong," Jacobsohn said. "I've seen nothing like it. You can pepper it with bullets. But that purpose is keep that person out of the building."
School Guard Glass currently has two plants in Massachusetts that manufacture their specialized bullet-resistant glass and other products. The company has plans to open up a third plant in Florida this summer.
While one of their products can withstand a bullet from an AR-15, Jacobsohn says no glass is completely bulletproof. But they can make their glass bullet- and attack- resistant, which in the end can create the delay needed to get authorities and first responders to the scene.
"Time is keeping someone alive," Jacobsohn said.
That's exactly what the Orange County SAFE moms want.
"When you have an active shooter on campus, every minute counts," Archer said.
"How many more children have to die? We can't afford to wait anymore," Pelak said. "These are actions we can take now to protect kids in the classroom."
[MORE: Central Florida school districts react to Florida's new school safety law | Florida education leaders discuss new school safety legislation | Speakout hotline in Brevard County accepts anonymous school safety tips]
The SAFE moms say they also want stiffer laws and regulations on social media threats, something some law enforcement agencies are already working on.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood has already taken a zero-tolerance stance on school threats and has arrested and charged more than a dozen students for making violent threats. On March 1, he also announced that students who make threats against schools will have to pay the cost of his agency's response, which runs $1,082 per incident - even if the threat is determined to be a joke.
Another thing the SAFE moms would like to see is a safety line both kids and adults could call to report suspicious activity or behavior.
The SAFE moms even called the Orange County Public School District to arrange a meeting with the campus police chief to see if some of their ideas could be considered in future school plans and budget proposals.
Responses from Orlando-area school districts on parents' suggestions
News 6 reached out to all public school districts in the Orlando area. Below are their responses.
Orange County Public Schools
"We will surely listen to the recommendations and take them into account however we will not discuss our safety plans in public."
--Lorena Arias, OCPS Media Relations Manager
Seminole County Public Schools
Superintendent Walt Griffin sent out a recorded phone call to all parents about what can be done to make schools safer, but he wanted to make clear that the SPCS district does not publicly comment on security design and strategies, and stated that school security is intentionally confidential, per state law.
Any parent, student or faculty member with a school security concern is encouraged to contact a school resource officer or a school administrator. They can also contact Director of School Safety Captain Rick Francis. Parents can also click here to learn how to participate in a school safety and security forum scheduled for March 29 at Winter Springs High School Auditorium.
Parents are encouraged to attend school board meetings or contact the district's school safety and security staff any time.
Volusia County Public Schools
A town hall meeting is in the works for mid-March to hear from parents, students and community members about safety and security.
Flagler County Public Schools
Sheriff Rick Staly, Flagler Schools Superintendent James Tager and School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker held a joint press conference to discuss updated security measures and proposed security changes for Flagler County Public Schools.
Superintendent Tager spoke of the need for 13 school resource deputies at the nine Flagler County public schools, up from the six SRDs currently assigned. He also spoke of security measures already in place, including single-entry systems to the schools and automatic-locking doors. All schools routinely practice safety drills, have screening processes at the front offices, keep classroom doors locked during the school day and have school physiologists on school campuses. The school board is also looking at a variety of additional security features to add to each of the schools for the protection of students and faculty.
Hear from the makers of the products being researched
"Interestingly, we are having groups of parents, grandparents, and local business people around the country reach out to us and ask for help. We decided to do something to help them crowdfund the devices for their school with a video which shows Justin installing the device and the information for the donations or leaders to contact for each group.”
-- DominantSafety.com and JustinKase
One Wisconsin group raised money for their local schools using this video as part of their communication efforts.
"We believe that anyone with the intent to do harm will find a way in. We focused our product on protecting staff and students sooner while getting help faster.
--Dean Olds, co-founder of Alertpoint.com.
Olds also mentioned that the Alertpoint system focuses on the following features:
"Staff involvement and empowerment
Giving staff members a wearable ALERTPOINT duress button and empowering them to use it not only creates a greater peace of mind among staff, it also profoundly affects the speed at which crisis awareness and response can be generated. If a staff member sees a threat, they can immediately call for help or place the whole campus into a lockdown.
Quickly notify all building occupants
Just like existing fire alarms, ALERTPOINT's patent pending system uses color-coded lights in every room to visually notify occupants of any action they need to take. In addition, integrated intercom announcements give clear direction without the risk or delay of manual interaction.
ALERTPOINT immediately notifies emergency responders and administration of the event so response protocols can start faster.
Know exactly where the issue is
With the ALERTPOINT real-time locating technology, accurate locating information gives responders critical location awareness including classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, and parking lots. It saves time when seconds matter.
Not just for lockdowns
While the hope is that high-level alerts (i.e., lockdown) will be rarer over the course of the school year, staff requests for help (disruptive student, medical issues, fights) can become frequent types of occurrences in which the benefits of the ALERTPOINT solution are felt on a more regular basis.
Unfortunately many people are assaulted (or worse) with phones in their pockets or other emergency call buttons a small distance away. ALERTPOINT allows for a quick activation using a discreet wearable button."
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