Security upgrades in place at Seminole County schools

Funding for student mental health, technology enhancements among improvements

By Clay LePard - Reporter

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - As students enter the classroom Friday in Seminole County for a new school year, they will find several noticeable changes meant to enhance school security and safety. 

"As soon as the tragedy happened in South Florida, before any effort or direction came from Tallahassee, we worked with our superintendent to move and make sure we had two school resource officers on every high school campus," Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said. 

During the past five years, Seminole County schools have spent $25 million in school safety upgrades to help better protect its 68,000 students and 8,000 employees. This will be the third year the school has utilized school resource officers, and a second officer has been added for more crowded schools. 

The safety improvements this year include $1.4 million for mental health counselors and clinical workers for students throughout the county. 

"Bring that kind of support that's really needed," Seminole County School Board Chairman Amy Lockhart said. "Our faculty can be better trained when there may be an issue and to really be able to come around our students and give them the support they need." 

This is the second year teachers will have access to panic buttons on their phones in case of an emergency. 

The school district is also embracing the fact that nearly every student, especially in high school, has a cellphone. 

"Our students have told us loud and clear that we were not appropriately and effectively communicating with them," Superintendent Walt Griffin said. 

For the first time, parents can register their student's cellphone to receive text alerts from the school in case of a lockdown or other emergency. 

"We believe putting that ability in their hands to make decisions as well," Captain Rick Francis, director of school safety and security in Seminole County, said. "It makes things in our situation a little easier." 

More than 1,000 students' phones have already been registered for the service, Francis said. 

The district is also debuting a new smartphone app called "Raptor Reunification," which helps administrators keep track of students in case of a lockdown by giving teachers the ability to check in students remotely. 

That app also allows teachers to look up which guardians are allowed to pick up children in the event normal school dismissal procedures do not happen because of a lockdown or other emergency. 

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