Flagler County students asked to start school safety program statewide

Students speak at Stoneman Douglas public safety commission meeting

SUNRISE, Fla. – Tuesday morning, School Safety Commissioners asked six Flagler Palm Coast High School students if they'd be willing to replicate their school safety and security program for the Florida Department of Education at schools across the state.

The question came at the end of a presentation by the students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting in Sunrise.

The students, known as the FPC Bulldog Patrol, named for their school mascot, decided to take it upon themselves last year to improve the safety and security of their school.

They started by asking their classmates what they perceived the school's weaknesses to be. They got 400 responses, including areas that students believed needed to be hardened.

They taught all teachers first aid and created hundreds of "survival kits," one for each classroom.

They also worked with the school’s aeronautics program and Air Force JROTC to use drones to patrol the campus from the air.

The students explored how to add a K-9 to the campus, and Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly immediately agreed to provide the dog and the deputy.

The students also created a video to teach fellow students how to respond to threats wherever they are on campus and they encouraged their classmates to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement within the school and report concerns of unusual behavior and threats.

Senior Will Patin told commissioners he and his classmates were grateful and humbled by the opportunity to share their success with other schools.

"At the beginning of this past school year, the administration from our school and county challenged us with the question: If not you, then who?" Patin said. "And we tried to really put this question as the core of our project and develop our project around this."

Bulldog Patrol member Nicholas Blumengarten told commissioners that unlike other school safety plans, FPC's was designed by students, not police or elected officials.

"Our plan is tailored to Flagler Palm Coast High School," Blumengarten said. "This plan was developed by students who walk the halls, know our peers, and needed to have an input in our school security plan. We have a voice and we advocate for ourselves and our peers."

Patin said commissioners noted how the Bulldog Patrol has gotten students on board with going to teachers or administrators with concerns.

"From the statistics, we found they (students) were more comfortable to go to an adult than not to talk to an adult on our campus, and they're very comforting for us," Patin told commissioners.

Commissioners explained why students communicating with each other and their teachers is critical to stopping school violence.

"So what we found was there were 30 different people that had prior knowledge that the murderer was going to do this, there were six different incidents that Marjory Stoneman Douglas staff were told that the murderer was going to shoot up the school and did nothing in all these different incidents," the commissioner said. 

Another commissioner wanted to know how to get students talking at other schools.

"The secret formula you have stumbled upon is students listen to students better than adults, so when we look at how can we make a program like yours scale-able," the commissioner asked. "How can you help someone like me who works at the state level connect your voice, other student voices, so they can own the culture and climate of their schools as well?"

Patin said Bulldog Patrol members are already sharing their knowledge.

"So what we're actually working on, one of the next phases of our project is putting together a slideshow to show other schools what process we use to go about creating this plan," Patin said.

Staly said the students are successful because they listen and talk to each other.

"So one of the biggest components missing that I've seen at all of this is that the adults are trying to tell the students what they need to be safe on campus," Staly said. "When in reality the students know what they need, what the weak points are."

Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina Rose, was killed in the Parkland massacre, said the Bulldog Patrol is getting results.

"We're proud to see them step forward, have a plan, be doing all the right things," Montalto said. "I'm just looking to see that someone is looking to be proactive and prevent tragedies instead of waiting until it falls on your community, because I can promise you, no matter where you live, this kind of tragedy can happen to you."

Rachel Patin, Will's mother, was proud.

"They really have stepped up and given all their peers their voice," Rachel Patin said. "They understand the gravity of this, and when they talk empowerment, that's what it's about for them."

After News 6 first reported on the students, Florida’s Office of Safe Schools Director Damien Kelly visited FPC High School and met with the students to learn about their Bulldog Patrol.

Kelly was so impressed that he recommended to commission chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that the students speak about the Bulldog Patrol to the entire Public Safety Commission so other schools can learn from them.

The MSD Public Safety Commission delivered its first set of recommendations to Tallahassee in January, which included more teachers be allowed to carry guns, surveillance technology at schools be improved and schools be hardened.

Presidential candidate Eric Swalwell is speaking at a Town Hall in Sunrise to discuss ideas on how to end gun violence.



About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.