HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — "Our school, there's many buildings, so it's easier to get in, easier for someone not part of our system to get in, into the buildings," said one Pierce Middle School student discussing concerns she and her classmates have about school security and safety.
"How would you close this place off?" questioned a teacher.
The student replied, "A higher gate. They could still get over it, but it would be a little harder."
The exchange took place as part of a long-running discussion series between students and school resource officers, but Monday, just a little over a month since the shooting at Parkland, Florida, the discussion had a special focus.
About 40 students, broken up into smaller groups and paired with school resource officers from across the county, were asked to list their concerns, and brainstorm potential solutions, to school security vulnerabilities.
Ideas shared included daily checks of student backpacks, having metal detectors at school, having a "safe room" inside classrooms, and having security officers at every exit.
But ideas were not limited to "hardening" school security.
Part of the purpose of the discussion sessions are to make students more comfortable talking to deputies.
"It's a great thing. Gives us a chance to interact with the children in a way we never could on the street," says Master Deputy J.D. Moriarty, a school resource officer for Bing Elementary and Palm River Elementary in the Clair-Mel neighborhood of Hillsborough County.
"We get to talk about drugs, guns, and we get to talk on a one-on-one basis and get to know the kids," adds Deputy Moriarty. "If we could get people to come up and say, 'hey I talked to so and so and he's made some strange comments. Maybe we can get a counselor involved. We can really get to the in-depth problem."
The event is part of the Community and Law Enforcement Workshop & Services Program (CLEW). Launched in 2016, it's funded by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and by the United Way Suncoast. Other sponsors include Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS), the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) and the Corporation to Develop Communities (CDC) of Tampa, Inc.
The program consists of seven four-hour workshops held during school hours in middle and high schools in Hillsborough County.
For additional information about the CLEW program, please call Program Manager, Fred Hearns at (813) 545-3183.