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October 6, 2006

Cathy Schroeder
(850) 245-0413

Statement by Education Commissioner John L. Winn Regarding School Safety

"In light of the recent tragedies at schools in Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to the students, families and staff of these schools. As inexplicable and horrific as these incidents are, we recognize that teachers, school officials, school personnel, and law enforcement work tirelessly in the hopes of preventing such tragedies from happening and respond appropriately when these senseless acts occur.

The safety and well-being of our school communities is the highest priority of the Florida Department of Education, as well as local school district officials. We want schools to be inviting places, not fortresses, but we all must be diligent and vigilant when it comes safeguarding our students, faculty and school staff well in advance of any situation. Florida has long been a leader in this regard and was one of the first states to add School Resource Officers in schools. We train school district staff so they can identify potential hazards or vulnerabilities in advance, as well as plan for appropriate tactical response strategies. We provide training to school districts that link aerial photographs and campus site floor plans for use by first-responders in an emergency. For more than 15 years, Florida lawmakers have appropriated more than $70 million in funding annually for school safety. They have put laws in place to protect students from persons with criminal backgrounds such as the Jessica Lunsford Act.

We work very closely with school districts so they will be prepared in a time of crisis. Each school district in Florida must have an Emergency Management Plan in place not only for acts of violence but natural disasters. Through training, we help the school districts develop these plans and provide consistent support to ensure no matter the incident, our schools are prepared. These plans focus not only on keeping everyone safe — the highest priority — but also include strategies to inform parents quickly and accurately about the situation. An Emergency Management Plan is not a simple checklist, but a critical tool that is constantly updated and revised, with the watchful eye of school officials, law enforcement and emergency responders.

Even given the efforts at state and local levels, these three tragic incidents still occurred. Unfortunately, there is no profile of a school in which such incidents can't happen. However, the Florida Department of Education, with the assistance of state and local officials, continues to strive to protect those in Florida's schools."