Clay County District Schools is working collectively with the school police department, Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Clay County Fire and Rescue and Clay County Emergency Management to develop detailed plans of what to do if an active threat enters the school.
All Florida schools are required to observe the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, adopted in 2018 after a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The legislation mandates Florida schools to have mobile panic alert systems that connect immediately with first responders, mental health assistance for students and routine active assailant drills in case of an actual emergency.
This year, Florida schools are required to come up with a family reunification plan for faculty and emergency staff to follow in the event of an active school threat.
“Of course, nobody likes to talk about the ‘what ifs’ of a school shooting happening in any facility,” Clay County District School Communications and Media Coordinator Terri Dennis said. “But, it is in our best practice to plan for it so we know how to handle everything accordingly.”
Each school year, Clay County District Schools routinely practices fire drills, severe weather drills and active assailant drills. In the first 30 days of school one of each drill is practiced, then two a month of alternating types, Dennis said.
The school system breaks down an active assailant situation into two categories – code red and code yellow. An instance where a code yellow might be put in place is a known SWAT raid at a house near or on the street of a local school.
When schools go on a code yellow lockdown, teachers can keep instructing but nobody is to move about the campus or exit classrooms, Dennis said. A code red indicates an active threat on the school campus where all individuals in the school move accordingly into safe, hidden locations.
Clay County District Schools formed its own police department in 2019 to employ officers on each of the 42 school campuses for added security. The police department works in tandem with the Orange Park Police Department and Green Cove Spring Police Department, as well as operates individually.
The officers are stationed at various schools, dependent on their size, Dennis said. Additionally, the school employs “guardians” who are trained and qualified people entrusted with carrying a weapon on the school campus in case of an emergency. Guardians are meant to blend into the school campus and, therefore, do not wear uniforms like the police officers, Dennis said.
“Guardians are people that want to continue to work in public safety, but no longer work for an agency,” Dennis said. “All of our guardians have 20 or more years of active sworn-in service.”
The number of guardians and police officers at each Clay County school differs each year, but the district regularly advertises for more help to instill more safety, Dennis said. For those interested in working for the district school police department, or for more information on becoming a guardian, click here.
Guardians and school police officers have worked throughout the summer with district administration, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and other Clay County rescue and emergency management teams to craft the district’s Family Reunification Plan.
The plan highlights where centers would be placed, how children would be moved from point A to point B during an active assailant incident and protocol for families to be rejoined, Dennis said.
“While a lot of it is kept top-secret for obvious reasons, you can trust that these are very legitimate measures we are taking,” she said. “It’s no ‘Paul Blart Mall Cop,’ it's legit; with drawn-out maps and heightened security by means of our officers actively going to shooting ranges.”
Along with its new Family Reunification Plan, Clay County District Schools each have one, single point of entry into the building through its main offices. All 42 offices have been refurbished with a bank-teller type of glass, security systems and monitors to buzz visitors into the building, Dennis said.
Visitors, upon entry, are required to sign-in and have their driver’s license or ID scanned by the school’s system in order to get a “Raptor Pass,” allowing them permission into the school campus. The Raptor Visitor Management System scans the ID, similar to a background check, and notifies the school of any potential danger.
“For example, if someone were to come in and it shows they have a history of being a sexual predator, then they would not be allowed to walk the campus freely; they would need to be assigned a police officer to walk with them,” she said.
All teachers are to keep their classroom doors locked throughout the school day, whether a drill or active situation is happening, and personnel are employed to check for this throughout each day.
“With school shootings still happening across the nation, we are proud to say that we were already very strict and tight on these policies because of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act,” she said. “We feel we have some of the best policies in place and we are looking forward to the upcoming school year.”
Clay County District Schools relaunched each of their web pages on July 1, with updates and new features of parents and students. To be taken to the district homepage, click here.
To be taken to the district’s safety and security webpage, click here.
To be taken to the Clay County District Schools Police Department webpage, click here.