THE MAGAZINE

Keeping Students Safe

By John R. Ritter and Jonathan Fox

Crimes against children, such as the 2005 abduction and murder of Jessica Lunsford in Homosassa Springs, Florida, and school shootings, such as the series of attacks that occurred in September and October, including at an Amish schoolhouse, leave no doubt about the importance of safety and security at school facilities. Administrators of Broward County’s school district, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, take that responsibility seriously.

“As the sixth-largest district in the nation, we needed to come up with a system that would protect our students and staff,” numbering 271,000 and 41,000, respectively, at 264 sites, says Joseph Melita, the executive director of the district’s internal police force, called the Special Investigative Unit and Professional Standards (SIU).

With that goal in mind, the district applied for and received two $500,000 grants under the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. Tapping those funds and supplementing them with its own resources from an overall budget of nearly $4.5 billion, the district has established a comprehensive safety and security program.

The cornerstones of the program are prevention (of which a key component is access control and visitor management), emergency preparedness, mitigation, and response. The plan covers safety planning and emergency drills and awareness programs for staff at all schools across multiple functions. To ensure implementation, each school has a Safe Team responsible for safety planning and coordination of emergency response.

Everything is done in collaboration with local police and fire agencies. That’s key because the district is served by some 20 law enforcement entities. “We don’t want the first time our principals meet police and fire officials to be when they have an incident,” says Melita.

The following looks specifically at the visitor management system—dubbed the Security Tracking and Response (STAR) System by the district—which makes it possible for the Broward schools to monitor, identify, and screen all vendor and contractor personnel, volunteers, and others coming into schools.

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