NICEVILLE — Student representatives from the Okaloosa County School District's six high schools participated in a Student Leadership Safety Summit on Wednesday to discuss how to improve school safety.
Some 30 students as well as representatives from high schools, the district office and the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office met for a three-hour discussion at the Central Administrative Complex in Niceville.
Students broke into small groups to discuss new ideas about crisis drills, school resource officers, fencing, cameras, admission onto campus, mental health, school threats and more.
Alby Clendennin, a student at Baker School, told School District representatives and sheriff's deputies that his group wants more restrictive admission into the schools for visitors and stronger monitoring at the entrance gates. Clendennin said he also wanted to see better implementation of student IDs.
“I know at Baker, seniors don’t get one (a school ID),” Clendennin said. “Seniors don’t take class pictures, so no one has them. I’m an office aide, so I get to see how visitors are getting on campus.
“During events the faculty will be overwhelmed because there will be a ton of visitors trying to come onto campus at once," he added. "And then you have no idea who is there and who isn’t because people can very easily walk past the front office and into a hallway.”
Ryanne Foster, a student at Fort Walton Beach High School, said she hoped to see SROs roaming the hallways more and spending less time in their offices.
“If it’s more monitored and the SROs have relationships with the students, they’ll know who doesn’t go there,” Foster said.
Other students suggested: teachers use walkie-talkies to quietly communicate emergencies rather than use the intercom, a resolution to students opening the door when they notice classmates locked outside; and bulletproof barriers to place in front them during an active shooter situation.
"We have single point of entry, but that doesn't always work because the 16 or so other doors can be unlocked by anyone if you knock on it and someone is there," one Choctawhatchee High School student said. "Anyone who wants to get onto campus, if you find the right person or look like a student, teacher or substitute, you can get in. Locks don't matter if you have a person on the other end."
While student leaders attended the summit, their peers from across Northwest Florida and the nation participated in a 17-minute walkout to protest gun violence and honor the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14.
Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson said in permission slips sent to parents that the Okaloosa County walkouts were not protests, but rather to memorialize the 17 lives lost during the Parkland shooting.
Every student at the summit walked out at 10 a.m. They were joined by the adults.
Jackson and the Sheriff’s Office also took time out during the Safety Summit to inform students about the Legislature agreeing to provide $400 million to fund school safety. Jackson discussed how a portion of the money would help to harden schools by installing metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks.
"They are going to create an anonymous mobile app that you can text any time you hear or say something," Jackson said. "It's called FortifyFL. You can anonymously report."
Jackson said the School District will hire mental health counselors and require the staff to complete crisis intervention training.
"This is a true mental health counselor," Jackson said. "This is someone who helps kids who may be suffering from depression, who may be suffering from bad thoughts. A lot of times these students say they hear voices who tell them to do things.
"We want mental health counselors in our school to help you," she added.