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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Guns? OK, but security doesn't stop there

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:50 AM

This morning's discussion begins with a point I believe we all can agree with: Our schools have to be as safe as we can possibly make them. If Hillsborough County Superintendent MaryEllen Elia believes the best way to accomplish that is by spending $4 million to place armed guards in every school, I guess we ought to talk about that.

It's a lot of money, and whether you like guns or not, you can't put a price on the well-being of children.

Except, well, that's just what we do every day.

Around the same time the superintendent was rolling out her vision for hiring 130 security personnel so each school will be covered by an armed and trained officer, she also announced her recommendations in the aftermath of the tragedy at Rodgers Middle School. That's the school where student Jenny Caballero, who had Down syndrome, drowned in a pond after slipping unnoticed out of a physical education class.

Among other actions in the case, Elia recommended that two aides lose their jobs.

One of the aides makes about $10 an hour while the other is paid $8.60. By comparison, McDonald's listed a part-time job Wednesday paying $8.25 an hour. One of the jobs requires a person to smile and ask if you want fries with that sandwich. The other gives you responsibility for looking after our most vulnerable children.

We know why this happens.

Looking after these kids is tough and sometimes tedious work, and not everyone either wants or is qualified to do that. One of the aides recommended for termination by Elia was on an unauthorized smoke break when Jenny disappeared. Once her absence was noticed, aides scrambled to find her but didn't notify the principal.

We will never know if a better-trained, better-paid workforce could have prevented this, but it's reasonable to expect the school system could attract a larger applicant pool if these jobs paid more.

Maybe the school system can address that issue after it invests $700,000 to hire 50 extra security officers for the next three months, and $3.6 million to have full security for next year.

Having armed guards on-site doesn't guarantee safety; Columbine High had armed protection as well. And it has been pointed out that Virginia Tech had its own police force and Fort Hood, site of another massacre, is a military base. But I suppose this is a commonsense move, so while we're on the subject I'd like to suggest another.

We have sex education in schools. We have driver's ed. We have all kinds of ed.

So, let's have gun education. I'm not talking about live ammo and shooting ranges, I'm talking education — both sides of the issue. Let's deal with the pros and cons, taught by experts, with an emphasis on the consequences of misuse of a firearm.

And since security isn't just about guns, let's not forget about Jenny Caballero and other special-needs children. The system needs to be fixed, and right now nothing is more important.


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