In the wake of the high school mass shooting in Parkland that claimed the lives of 17 people Wednesday, some Northwest Florida school districts are adding extra safety measures to help prevent more student deaths.

Others, however, will remain unchanged.


In a robocall sent out to parents Thursday morning, Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson announced plans to create a single point of entry at all schools. She said the Sheriff's Office will also increase patrols in school zones.

"We work closely with the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office and have an SRO (School Resource Officer) at every school who reviews our crisis plan," Jackson said in her message. "Sheriff (Larry) Ashley and I agree, the safety of our students is our highest priority."

Ashley said patrol units are already instructed to stay within a certain distance to schools when not responding to a call. However, he said he instructed his SRO supervisors Thursday morning to be even more diligent.

"If we can't protect our kids, then what else really matters?" Ashley asked. "I told them this is what our society has become and the importance of their jobs cannot be stressed enough."

The School District and Sheriff's Office were able to put their new measures into action about 1 p.m. Thursday when a man was arrested for waving a BB gun near Pryor Middle School. The middle school was locked down for about 5 minutes before the suspect, Charles Burke, was arrested. Details about the incident and charges were not available later Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday morning, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the Parkland tragedy — the deadliest school shooting in the United States in five years.

Fourteen wounded survivors were hospitalized Wednesday as bodies were recovered from inside and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The scene was reminiscent of the Dec. 14, 2012, attack at Sandy Hook Elemenatary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which shocked even a country numbed by the regularity of school shootings. Twenty first-graders and six staff members were killed. The 20-year-old gunman, who also fatally shot his mother in her bed, then killed himself.

Santa Rosa County School Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said his district plans to wait until the details about the Parkland shooting are revealed to see if there are any extra precautions schools can implement.

Wyrosdick said Santa Rosa County schools mirror the same safety protocols as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

"There was a single point of entry, SROs on campus. What we do is reflective," he said. "They had measures in place, yet it (the shooting) still took place.

"We added about $1 million in security cameras and redesigned hallways," Wyrosdick added. "Every opportunity we have to stand between harm to our students we want to take."

Santa Rosa does not have school resource officers at all its schools, but Sheriff’s Office spokesman Rich Alloy said his office is adamant about adding more.

Walton County School District Superintendent Russell Hughes said his district also has no immediate plans to add extra safety measures.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswomen Corey Dobridnia said her office has SROs at every district school, including private schools and charters such as Seaside Neighborhood School, Gateway Academy, Walton Academy and Walton Technical College.

"We're asking the public to have open conversations with their kids," Dobridnia said. "If you see something, say something."

Several parents in Okaloosa County called administrators and staff Thursday morning concerned about student safety, according to district Safety Specialist Andy Johnson. Johnson said the district worked through the night to provide parents with some level of reassurance. In her message, Jackson recommended parents watch and review the district's "See something, say something" video and discuss it with their children.

"We sent emails to our principals, giving them a script to either read themselves or to their student bodies," Johnson said. "Then we sent out the robocall, anticipating there might be questions or concerns."

Johnson said the single point of entry for schools has been a longtime initiative. He said the process involves building fences, walls and more.

"That's an issue that involves funding," Johnson said. "We do a little bit at a time as funds are available."

Just like Okaloosa County, only some schools in Santa Rosa and Walton County have single points of entry.

Students in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties participate in active-shooter drills at least once a year, the superintendents said.

Ashley said he believes what the government is neglecting when it comes to these types of shootings is mental health, officer-to-student ratio, social media monitoring and the widespread breakdown of families.

"How many officers per child is enough?" Ashley asked. "One is just not adequate. If safety is the government's No. 1 priority, this issue is long overdue for the safety of our students.

"I don't know if we're ignoring mental illness because we've become so politically correct," Ashley said. "But when a student is acting abnormally, what do we do with that student?"

Wyrosdick was also concerned about the lack of resources available to students who struggle with mental health issues.

"For years schools have been saying to legislators that we have to address this mental health issue," Wyrosdick said. "How are we identifying students that have issues and how are we meeting their needs in a clinical way?"

Wyrosdick said Santa Rosa identifies students weekly who are in need of mental health therapy. However, in-school councilors aren't enough, he said.

"That's a great concern for educators," he said. "There is going to be lots that is talked about over the next couple of weeks. We want to make certain we are doing everything we can do to make sure we are providing a safe environment for students."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.