ORLANDO, Fla. – Since the beginning of the school year, News 6 reporters have covered on more than 30 high-profile incidents on school campuses: including student arrests, weapons on campus and lockdowns.
“There has been a spike in violence on the campuses,” said Capt. Michael Marden, from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. “When I say violence, it is everything from a school fight to worse.”
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Marden not only leads the School Resources Bureau and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office; he also serves as President for the Florida Association of School Resource Officers, a statewide agency dedicated to training officers inside local schools.
For Marden, the reason for an increase in campus incidents can be attributed to one main issue: the COVID pandemic.
“Students are sitting at home for a mandatory two weeks, and then when they come back, they are kind of wound up, ready to see their friends, and they start getting into some trouble.”
However, Marden is confident school resources officers are more prepared than ever, in part, because of upgrades in training.
“In the past, a lot of people that got into school resources, it was like a retirement job. You got there just so you could kind of ride out your days. But we are not seeing that anymore,” Marden said. “A lot of these school resource units are now the most elite unit or agency.”
A look at the most recent data available shows, over the last three years, a handful of Florida school districts have seen an increase in campus disruptions, including Baker, Bradford, Brevard, Levy, Okaloosa and Volusia counties.
These major events are reported by the districts the Florida Department of Education, and include things like bomb threats, riots and pulling a fire alarm.
“Back in the day, you had to be an administrator to initiate a lockdown,” said Volusia Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz. “Now, anybody can, because it is that important.”
Fritz’s district saw the largest increase in campus disruptions over a three-year period in Central Florida.
According to the data, Volusia County saw campus disruptions jump from 21 incidents in 2018 to more than 200 last school year, an increase Fritz had an explanation for.
“Ever since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas legislation came out [in 2018], schools and systems were held to a higher standard of safety and security. That means, number one, everything has to be identified. Nothing is swept under the carpet. A fight is a fight, and we call it a fight.
“If there is a situation on campus that requires a lockdown, the procedures were tightened up, staff was trained, tools were put into place for our staff to initiate a lockdown.”
Fritz also noted that not all lockdowns are due to incidents on campus. It could include off-campus incidents happening close to a campus that have nothing to do with the school.
“Initiating a lockdown is not a bad thing. It is stating that there is a situation on campus that someone feels is unsafe. So we would expect the numbers to go up actually, and that is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said.
Fritz has also been open about the uptick in incidents on campuses in recent months, even speaking publicly at a Debary City Council meeting a few months ago.
While he also believes the main catalyst was COVID-19, he said the fix will have to come from community support.
“Our kids have suffered homelessness. They have suffered tragedy. They have lost relatives. Many of these things are things that [we have seen] previously, or has happened in the history of schools, but I think it has been exacerbated with this pandemic. I think we are dealing with this at much greater numbers.”
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