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OCPS, Local Law Enforcement Keep Focus on School Safety

With recent school shootings and violence on the minds of many parents and students across America, Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are reminding the community that the focus remains on local school safety. School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs has made school safety a top priority for OCPS since she was elected, and continues to review safety measures and consider additional options locally.

“The safety of our students and staff is my number one priority. I want children and teachers to be safe and for parents to feel comfortable sending their children to school,” School Board Chair Jacobs exclusively told the West Orlando News. “Tragically, we continue to be reminded that the threat remains in our country for school violence and active shooters. There is no doubt how unsettling and disturbing this is, and no one in education should allow themselves to become complacent or overconfident about security. I frequently talk with our facilities and operations teams, as well as our district police, to gain understanding and assurance regarding different scenarios and protocols.”

School Board Chair Jacobs explained that OCPS internal teams are continually assessing and enhancing the safety of local school buildings, and these comprehensive reviews consider physical security and infrastructure, school resource officers, training, threat assessment and management, public safety and emergency equipment, active assailant drills, and even mental health. OCPS is also required to conduct an annual Florida Safe Schools Assessment, and those findings are shared at a public meeting with the board.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina agrees with OCPS that school safety is a top priority. The OCPS School Board and Sheriff Mina are in agreement that there should be a sworn law enforcement officer in all traditional public schools, and there is an OCSO deputy for bell-to bell coverage in every traditional public school within our jurisdiction, which is more than 120 schools.

In fact, local school resource deputies go above and beyond the required training, and have additional skills to handle situations in the most appropriate way.

“We believe that in Orange County Public Schools, we have some of the best trained deputies and officers anywhere,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Office told West Orlando News. “All of our School Resource Deputies go through School Resource Officer training, as well as 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training, which makes them much more effective in dealing with youth who may be experiencing a mental crisis. They also receive special autism training to ensure they are handling situations involving children with autism in the most appropriate way.”

In the spirit of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, all of the OCSO Deputies have had extensive training in Active Shooter response. But at OCSO, they have taken traditional active shooter response even further and have trained all School Resource Deputies on “single deputy response,” which means that in the event of an active shooter, they know it’s possible they will have to act alone initially, rather than wait for backup.

In addition to school resource deputies, the Orange County School Board Chair understands that school safety takes a layered approach, and she has been active in reviewing and considering safety protocols.

“In fact, when I first took office here four years ago, I requested that all of our school’s emergency radio communication systems be tested to ensure reliability and interconnectivity with and between local law enforcement. Where necessary, enhancements were made,” School Board Chair Jacobs said. “And recently, communications were further enhanced by allowing teachers to communicate during active threats using a safety app on their phone or district-issued device.”

After the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, School Board Chair Jacobs called for a meeting with the board, the Superintendent, her cabinet, and local law enforcement to make sure OCPS was as prepared as possible to prevent and defend against the unimaginable. This was a closed-door session that was held on August 2, 2022. Jacobs noted that while there is great value in open meetings, meetings regarding safety and security are not required to be held in an open forum so that strategies for preventing or responding to any attempts to harm students or staff can be discussed openly and properly.

“Since then, I have asked our Superintendent to review and consider several other safety measures for the upcoming school year. I believe that a layered approach is crucial,” added School Board Chair Jacobs.

Some of the additional layers that have been discussed locally include have students use clear or mesh backpacks and the possibility of metal detectors.

Chair Jacobs has mentioned the backpacks at the board table on a few occasions and said she received emails from parents calling for them. According to her, the Superintendent’s team is researching what this requirement could look like for students, and reviewing the experiences of other districts that have implemented it. A recommendation to the school board will happen when her analysis is complete.

Metal detectors have been considered at OCPS in the past, but have not been pursued for a variety of reasons, Jacobs said. “I have asked that we research some of the newer product options and potential funding sources to provide the board with a fresh analysis,” she noted.

“We are also working with our student groups on campus to further promote safe practices and reporting,” Chair Jacobs added. “Educating and empowering them to make good decisions is necessary so we can all work together to keep our campuses safe. We ask parents to remind their students: do not open exterior doors, report any and all suspicious activity, and follow the safety protocols that are in place at our schools.”

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office also has real-time access to roughly 6,000 video cameras in Orange County Public Schools. “This is an invaluable tool because it enables the Deputies and analysts in our Analytics, Intelligence and Monitoring unit to instantly give valuable intelligence to Deputies on the ground within those first precious seconds,” OCSO said.

Here’s a video the Orange County Sheriff’s Office made last summer about the special school shooting training: Stop the Threat: Active Shooter Training.

“Fortunately, we have not experienced an active school shooter in our jurisdiction, and we investigate and address every threat in an effort to keep it that way,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Office added.

“As I mentioned, the safety of our students is my number one priority,” School Board Chair Jacobs added.

In fact, after concerns about liability, school safety and special beneficial treatment were raised last year because of an improper “verbal agreement” between Universal Orlando Resort and Orange County Public Schools, School Board Chair Jacobs got the Superintendent involved to make sure all OCPS policies were being followed at all schools – and she even returned political contributions from Universal made during contract negotiations. Universal finally signed an actual written, legal agreement with OCPS.

When asked if OCPS confirmed with every school that no other improper arrangements exist with outside partners, like Dr. Phillips High School had with Universal for years, Jacobs stated that all OCPS policies are now being followed and that school safety is being ensured with contracts and actual legal agreements.

“Because of the operational nature of this issue and question, I asked our Superintendent to provide an update for me,” School Board Chair Jacobs said. “The facilities team reported that they have been regularly communicating with all schools on this issue to assure compliance with policies, and that all facility use agreements are managed through our partner, Facilitron.”

Local officials are making it clear that nothing will impact the commitment to school safety.

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