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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Education

School security upgrade plan faces hesitant board


Published:

TAMPA — Each school day, security officer Wayne Moore patrols the hallways and grounds of Just Elementary School, dealing with discipline and making sure students are safe from the time they arrive to the time they leave.

The 42-year-old Brandon man has been stationed at the school for the past decade, one of 19 security officers at select Hillsborough County elementary schools as employees of the school district rather than the law enforcement agencies for whom school resource officers work.

This month, the school board will consider adding an armed officer like Moore at each of the 125 elementary schools that don’t have them now.

A $1.2 million federal Department of Justice grant will help by placing 10 sheriff’s deputies in elementaries this year. Each middle and high school already has its own Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputy or Tampa police officer.

District officials laid out a proposal to the school board in October that would phase in security officers at all elementary schools over the next four years. This would mean an armed guard stationed at every one of the schools operated by the district.

The board is set to make a decision Dec. 10, four days before the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting massacre in Connecticut.

If the board approves the district’s proposal as it is, 22 “mobile” officers would be hired to patrol district schools this year. Next year, 38 officers would be placed in specific schools. Forty would be added in the third year, and in the fourth year, every school would have its own officer.

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Earlier this year, the board rejected a plan to spend more than $1 million from the district’s contingency fund to hire 130 additional security officers for elementary schools.

Members have had mixed feelings about the new proposal and its $4.5  million price tag, but they seem to be coming around to the idea.

Board member April Griffin has been critical of putting officers in all elementary schools, saying the money could be better spent on student services positions such as guidance counselors and school nurses.

Griffin recently said she is “starting to move a little bit on this issue” but that she would still like the district to find ways to put more funding toward boosting students’ mental health.

Board member Stacy White, who supports bulking up the security force in elementary schools, said last month that it is time for the board to make a decision on the issue.

White, who has children in district schools, said he would consider other options besides giving every elementary its own officer, such as making one officer responsible for multiple schools close to each other.

“I would have peace of mind my children would be safe in school,” he said.

He added, “I am inclined to support year one of the plan, ask we approve that for now and ask the superintendent to come back in a year.”

The difference between a school security guard and a sworn law enforcement officer is that the district-employed guards do not make arrests.

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At Just Elementary, simply having an armed officer in uniform on campus makes a difference, Principal Carolyn Hill said.

“In our school, the visibility on campus keeps things calm,” Hill said. “He’s able to help out whenever there’s a crisis. He’s professional. He knows the students, the families and the culture of the school. The parents know him, trust him and appreciate what he does.”

Moore has been stationed at the school since it opened its doors in 2004. He previously spent eight years in the U.S. Army and 17 years in the Naval Reserve.

Deemed a D school by the Florida Department of Education in 2013, Just serves students who come from predominantly low-income families, with nearly all of them qualifying for free or reduced meals.

Moore starts off each school day at 7 a.m. with crossing guard duty and stays at school until 6 p.m. on most days.

The majority of the 600-plus children who attend Just live in the neighborhood and walk to school. There are only 50 or so car riders and about 200 who take the bus.

On a recent morning, Moore joked with students as they passed and made small talk with parents.

Moore knows many of the students and their families. Some of the kids even call him “Daddy.”

“A lot of them don’t have male role models,” he said.

Then he headed into his office, which is separated from the front office by a window. Here, he can see everyone who comes in and out and can make sure things are running smoothly.

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Throughout the day, Moore gets calls over his walkie-talkie to check on several discipline issues as he patrols the school.

On a typical day, he handles seven or eight issues, mostly behavior problems stemming from students not wanting to do their schoolwork.

He often has to retrieve students who have wandered away from their classrooms and are roaming the campus, or calm down students who are having tantrums in class. He very rarely has to break up fights, he said.

He does several “walk-throughs” of the school each day.

“I try to stay where the majority of the kids are, in case anything happens,” he says.

Moore also is there to intervene if there is an issue involving an angry parent.

Hill said: “Sometimes, when someone comes in and they’re a bit high strung, he knows how to calm them down.”

Other responsibilities include regularly checking doors and gates that should be locked, as well as checking playgrounds, parking lots and the perimeter of the school. Moore also interacts with students during lunch periods and does crime prevention education with them.

Moore said the idea of putting officers in all elementaries is a good one.

“I would welcome more officers, especially in the rural areas,” he said. “It takes law enforcement more time to respond.”

In addition to training sessions given to school security officers each year, they also go through active shooter training with local law enforcement agencies.

“They’re keeping us top notch,” Moore said.

Parent Kelli Bass, who has three children who attend Just, supports the plan to put officers like Moore into all Hillsborough elementary schools.

“He does a lot,” she said. “He has a relationship with the children. If it wasn’t for him, they’d be off campus somewhere.”

ekourkounis@tampatrib.com

(813)259-7999

Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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