“We are not adversaries. We want to help,” said Mandy Rodriguez of the Dolphin Research Center, flanked by three grandchildren who attend Stanley Switlik Elementary. “Please don’t think it’s not going to happen in this town. We are just as susceptible. We are a great group of parents, willing to help with anything.”
Rodriguez was addressing the Monroe County School Board on May 8 in the media center of the Marathon High School. Although school security was not on the agenda, about 60 adults and 40 children showed up to speak on the matter.
Most voiced concerns about what the school board can do NOW to improve security, especially as it concerns Stanley Switlik Elementary, which is slated to be rebuilt in the next two years. Although 4-foot temporary fences and a new door funnel visitors into the front office, local mother Alison Sayer noted that none have to show identification. “They just open the door and walk in. The question is what will happen with security between now and when the new school is built.”
Although the school board has a policy about not addressing input during citizens’ comments, Chairman Bobby Highsmith made an exception after about a dozen had spoken. Board member Mindy Conn said the discussions on school safety are going on … behind closed doors. “If we announce what we are doing, there’s not a lot of safety and security in that. Some of our measures will be obvious and other things we are currently doing you may not notice if you are walking around school.” She added that the mental health prong of the state initiative in the wake of the Parkland shootings is of the most importance.
School Superintendent Mark Porter said, “Immediacy is a problem. There are things that can be done over the summer, but that doesn’t make people feel good about these last two weeks of school.”
Stanley Switlik PTO secretary Catherine Dunn presented 364 petition signatures from parents in support of adding a school resource officer, metal detector and a social worker. She said those signatures represent the parents of almost every child in the student body of about 550 children. Only 15 were against the use of a metal detector, two wanted to know more about the detector, and four didn’t want a social worker.
In March, the PTO sent out a letter to all first responders in the area, asking them to visit school as often as possible not only to interact with the children, but also as a show of security. Since the plea, representatives of the sheriff’s office, county and city fire rescue, Coast Guard and Fish and Wildlife Commission have all made a point of visiting campus at the beginning of the day, lunch or recess … even the P.E. class.
Most parents who spoke offered to volunteer or donate money to help beef up security.
“I just had a kid and I want my child to be protected. You can put up something that prevents kids from stealing books,” said Phil Ivkovich, gesturing at the entrance to the library with a security portal, “but you’re not going to put up metal detectors?”