State

Florida’s Office of Safe Schools Faces Criticism

According to a recent audit conducted by Florida’s auditor general, the Office of Safe Schools has not been carrying out various responsibilities under its jurisdiction. It was also discovered that the office has been understaffed since 2019.

“Due to limited office staff resources, some statutory duties assigned to the office were either not performed or were administered in whole or in part by other department organizational units and vendors,” the report said.

The Office of Safe Schools, which is a part of the Florida Department of Education, was established following the tragic 2018 Parkland school shooting that left 17 people dead, as a part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Along with establishing the Office of Safe Schools, the act also included provisions such as establishing a safety commission, new requirements for mental health services, and school safety assessments.

“It would be an excessively naive thought to separate the responsibilities of (the Office of Safe Schools) from (the Florida Department of Education) in this analysis because they are inherently one in the same,” the department said.

In the 2020 Florida Statutes, the Office of Safe Schools was listed as a “central repository for best practices, training standards, and compliance oversight in all matters regarding school safety and security.” The responsibilities under the office included establishing and updating a school safety risk assessment for school districts, providing professional development for school district personnel, developing a School Safety Training Program, and coordinating with law enforcement on data analytic resources.

The recent audit on the Office of Safe Schools is not the first time that there has been a failure to comply with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

In 2019, Attorney General Ashley Moody called upon all Florida school districts to comply with the act after finding several districts that failed to fulfill all of the provisions under it. The list of school districts that failed to comply is kept confidential due to Florida Statute 905.24.

“Elected officials in school districts blatantly and irresponsibly shirking these extremely important public safety measures need to take steps immediately to comply with the law before the school year begins, and we put our children in your trust and care,” said Moody.

Some aspects of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act have received backlash recently, specifically the requirement of a safe-school officer at each public school. A study conducted by the University of Florida revealed that the increase of police in schools has led to an 82% spike in arrests.

In light of the continuing Black Lives Matter movement, the ACLU of Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center have been increasingly vocal about their opposition to police presence in schools. The ACLU is currently planning to lobby state lawmakers to repeal the requirement for officers to be present in every school.

“For instance, a school district could just increase patrols around the school … to make sure that police are close by if something happens on campus, but not integrated into the schools,” stated Michelle Morton, research coordinator and policy counsel for the ACLU of Florida.

Featured image: Demonstration in Washington D.C. following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Unmodified photo by Lorie Shaull under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/30w8vbA)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here

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