When Andrew Pink, a senior at Gibbs High School, comes to class at 7:30 a.m., he’s stuck there until school lets out — not only because of his dedication to his studies, but also because a locked gate and fence around the student parking lot prevents him from leaving.
“That’s the only thing about my school that ever made me feel unsafe or like I’m trapped,” Pink said. “I know they say they lock them for safety, but if something happened there’s no way for us to get out. I just realized that instead of making it safe, it keeps us in, and we can’t leave.”
Pink and about 50 other high school students on the Pinellas County Student Rights and Responsibilities committee discussed school safety with members of the school board Thursday morning.
Such measures are needed, schools Superintendent Michael Grego said.
“There are some safety elements that outweigh the conveniences of when you want to leave,” he said.
Eight schools in Pinellas County are in the process of receiving new locks and electronic buzzers that will require school administrators to monitor who comes in and out, a result of principals’ concerns that their schools weren’t secure enough after December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
All 74 elementary schools in the district will be equipped with doorbells, and school district officials are making unannounced site visits to ensure all schools are following safety procedures already in place.
Some of the policies the district is trying to enforce need to be re-examined, said Hayley Lehmann, a senior at Largo High School.
When Largo High goes on lockdown during a perceived threat, teachers lock their classrooms and slip a card under their doors. If a green card is slipped under the door, administrators can assume that everything in the classroom is OK. A red card means there’s trouble.
“But with that someone could walk through the halls and see what’s going on in your classroom, or change the card,” Lehmann said. “We have gates, but they’re never locked, so people can just walk on the campus.”
But all school safety policies have been created with local law enforcement, who “know what to do and how to do it,” Grego said.
“You don’t want to go to a school that resembles a jail; you want to have access; you, you want to have your parking lot open,” Grego told students at the meeting. “But there is a real safety issue in having gates open.”
Though safety dominated the students’ monthly meeting with school district officials, they also asked about replacing textbooks with tablets, raising the cap on the number of dual-enrollment courses for which a student can register and switching lunch to the end of the day to allow students to use the time to meet with clubs or leave early.
Cheyenne Einwalter, a senior at Pinellas Park High School, came with a mission for the students.
“I have a little brother in elementary school, and I know that’s when you learn ‘stranger danger’ and to stop at stop signs and other safety practices, and I see that waning a little bit with younger generations,” Einwalter said. “I really want to look at what we as high schoolers can do to reach these younger generations and keep them safe.”