Concerns raised over school safety in Worcester County | News | #schoolsaftey

The state’s attorney and county sheriff have been making efforts to improve communication with school officials regarding student safety.

Last Wednesday, concerns over school safety were at the forefront of discussions between the board of education and law enforcement officials. The meeting came at the request of State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser and Sheriff Matt Crisafulli, who said in a Sept. 11 letter to the school board they had serious concerns over how school officials were handling the safety of students.

In the letter, Heiser and Crisafulli stressed that law enforcement’s safety monitoring and crime investigation had been negatively affected by the schools’ inability to comply with state law.

“We’d basically exhausted all efforts on our end to address the matter,” Heiser said, noting that student safety has been a priority in her office. “We need to see more results from the schools, and from the board of education.”

The letter states that continuous attempts to strengthen the partnership between her department and school officials in order to ensure the highest possible safety standards have been made, but that there has been a consistent lack of communication with law enforcement regarding criminal activity taking place in the schools or deliberately executed by students. Heiser said no specific instance prompted the writing of the letter.

“We just need the schools to send us notifications about what’s going on,” she said.

In September, an updated memorandum of understanding that implemented a new school resource deputy program was approved by county officials, resulting in training school administration, board of education members and county commissioners to ensure they all understood the procedures listed.

Additionally, the message was spread to parents and students that law enforcement and school disciplinary protocols were separate from one another, that anyone who committed a criminal act would receive consequences determined by both school officials and state law.

A mobile app was also launched by the sheriff’s office that allowed parents and students to report any school safety concerns directly to law enforcement. Heiser said the app was well-received by parents, who encourage the increase of school safety measures.

The letter stated that over the past four years, the sheriff’s office had to deal with two instances where the potential for mass casualty events in Worcester County could be foreseen. These were both reported by student witnesses, rather than school officials, Heiser said.

“We don’t just want the schools to appear safe, but we want them to actually be safe for the students,” Heiser said. “We want everybody, not just students, to say something if they see something.”

Board of Education President Todd Ferrante issued a statement last Wednesday in response to the letter.

“Upon receipt of the letter requesting to present to the board of education, a special meeting was scheduled at the earliest opportunity as the safety and security of our students and staff is the number one priority of both the board and school system staff,” the statement read.

The Board of Education were set to discuss the concerns brought up by the letter in a closed session on Tuesday.

“We hope that we’ve given the board adequate time to come up with a diligent and thorough response,” Heiser said before the meeting. “We hope they understand the urgency of the matter and they come up with an effective plan.”

This story appears in the Oct. 13, 2023, print edition of the OC Today.

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