Hillsborough Schools conduct survey: do students feel safe?
By: Hetal Gandhi, FOX 13 News -
TAMPA (FOX 13) -
It's back to school time, and for parents and kids, safety can be one of the biggest concerns. Who can forget the deadliest high school shooting in American history at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut?
Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six staff members before killing his mother and turning the gun on himself in December of 2012. Those images are still fresh for many parents as they wonder if their own children's schools are safe.
It's one of the reasons school districts, such as Hillsborough County, are doing surveys to see what's working and what's not. According to the survey taken earlier this year, 56 percent of high school and middle school students said they do feel safe in school.
However, there are also schools where students don't feel safe. We visited one of them, where surprisingly, we found out that a security measure taken after Sandy Hook is actually making kids feel more unsafe at school.
Jenna Cofer is the Senior Class Secretary at East Bay High School.
"I love this school. I wouldn't go to any other school if you paid me," she said, with a beaming smile.
There's a lot on her mind as she starts her new classes, but safety isn't one of them.
"So I never really worried that there would be a shooting, especially because we lock our doors. We've locked our doors for the past two years, ever since Sandy Hook," she said.
However, those locked doors unlocked another sense of fear at the school.
"When we spoke to the students, because the hallways are so crowded, that seems to be the place that they're most anxious," explained East Bay Principal Maria Gsell.
She said it could be one of the main reasons only 31 percent of her students feel safe at school, according to the survey.
"That low percentage tells you that somehow they're not feeling safe and it's our job to find out how to remedy that," she said.
On the other hand, 61 percent of the students say they do feel comfortable talking to an adult at the school. That's something the principal says is working.
For example, she said, "They'd overheard that there was gonna be some violence off campus and they immediately came to an adult and reported it. It was handled. Nothing ever happened on the campus."
The school also has tools like surveillance cameras.
"They're valuable. Are they the be all and end all? No," she added.
The solution here may seem counterintuitive, but those doors once kept locked because of Sandy Hook will now be open.
"We are gonna let them go outside and we're gonna have an administrator standing on one side allowing the students to come in through that one door, and that will alleviate a lot of the crowding problems," Gsell explained.
"I love the idea of opening up the school because I think it will take away from the crowdedness," she added.
Giving students like Jenna a chance to focus on their studies instead of their safety.
We already know elementary schools in Hillsborough County will have armed guards for the first time this year. In addition, there's a company in St. Petersburg called SRT that's selling bullet proof vests similar to the ones used by law enforcement. They cost around $800.
They do not protect you against an AK-47 or any other type of rifles, which are often the weapon of choice in these deadly school shootings.
How did your child's school fare? Click here to see the results throughout Hillsborough County: