TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The head of the state’s school safety commission said Florida’s “greatest vulnerability” is charter facilities, worried they’re dragging their feet on compliance with new standards.
This all happened during a House subcommittee meeting Tuesday morning. Lawmakers were getting an update on the implementation of a series of new laws— and finding some concerning areas.
“I can tell you where the biggest problem is, the greatest void is, the greatest vulnerability is — the charters,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, said. “The charter schools are not where they need to be.”
Florida has more than 720 charter schools — with more than 380,000 students. They’re popular and are given leeway to operate outside of many of the regulations Florida requires for the rest of its public facilities.
Gualtieri told lawmakers that charters need to work on compliance with the state’s myriad safety standards that have popped up post-Parkland massacre in 2018. The biggest issue, Gualtieri said, is weak threat management and a reluctance of district superintendents to push for change.
“They are public schools,” the sheriff said. “They get public funding. There’s a rub between the traditional public schools and the charter schools about who is responsible for what. Ultimately — the districts are the ones that issue the charters. The districts are responsible.”
This year’s new public safety law might help, the sheriff said. It creates a standardized playbook for threat management for all districts, including their charters. Plus— the law has provisions requiring schools to better share student records. Those are two crucial safety elements, officials say.
A request for comment on the status of charter school compliance from Florida’s Department of Education wasn’t’ immediately returned.
“The message that I received today was a call to action,” Rep. Dana Trabulsy (R-Fort Pierce) said. “That we’re not done. We’re never going to be done.”
Trabulsy chairs the subcommittee. While didn’t commit to any action on charters in the coming lawmaking session, she also didn’t rule it out.
“I trust Sheriff Gualtieri,” the Republican said. “I understand he’s put so much work and effort into this. I would like to personally dig in and see what the charter schools are or are not doing before I weigh in on that.”
Instead, Trabulsy wanted to see private schools better list their attributes and safety requirements for prospective students. It comes after Florida opened up its voucher program to everyone earlier this year.
Outside of that — no mega omnibus school safety bills appear to be on the horizon for next year. Thought that can always change as January draws near.
One other concern lawmakers had— 911 calls getting directed to the right call center. At the moment, cities and counties often have overlapping efforts. It means a person may call 911, explain the situation, get transferred, and have to do it all over again. That wastes precious time, but officials said Tuesday there was no easy fix.