Christie: Palm Beach County school security rewrites will placate parents, but won’t stop shootings

A Palm Beach County School District resource officer opens the gates to the Palm Beach Central High School parking lot so owners can retrieve their cars after the shooting Friday night, during the football game between Palm Beach Central and Dwyer high schools. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

The Palm Beach County School Board agreed last week to spend up to $372,000 for a political consultant to advertise about the proposed property tax hike on radio, TV and online.

At the risk of sounding cynical, they might have just saved the taxpayer’s money given Friday night’s tragic events. Although the logical argument for the new tax revenue highlight a long-overdue boost in pay of public school teachers, the emotional part of the argument is fueled by the school safety issue.

And over the last few days that emotion has been dialed up to a level we all hoped it never would.

RELATED: Woman: I witnessed shooting at football game in Wellington, ‘couldn’t believe it’

You see, there’s school security, and then there’s school security.

That has become readily apparent in the wake of Friday night’s shooting at a football game between Palm Beach Central and William T. Dwyer high schools in that otherwise safe suburban enclave of Wellington.

The shooting wasn’t technically on campus; but I’m not sure it really matters at this point.

Much like the attendees at that football game, school officials and politicians are running scared of anything that raises doubts in the minds of parents’ and students’ that they can protect kids on a school campus.

Galvano

Even before the shooting last week, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano said he wants state lawmakers to think about expanding the school-safety efforts approved during the 2018 legislative session after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In a series of tweets last Tuesday, the Bradenton Republican implored senators to look more at school safety, according to the News Service of Florida.

“As incoming Senate President of the third-largest state in the nation — a bellwether for others — I am committed to making sure our re-examination of school safety policies does not end here,” Galvano tweeted. “Some issues simply must transcend politics. The safety of our children is one.”

In the 2018 session, lawmakers approved a wide-ranging, $400 million measure (SB 7026) measure that includes requiring schools to have safety officers, bolstering mental-health services and upgrading protections through school campus “hardening” projects.

And that’s kind of the rub here isn’t it? Friday’s shooting, which left two people injured — at least one critically — was barely on the school campus. In fact, Palm Beach County School District Police Chief Frank Kitzerow said it was an act of community violence that “barely spilled” on to the school campus. The shooting happened just outside the seating area — about 50 yards from a main road and outside the “secure” area of the stadium.

Most important, Kitzerow added, “Your children are safe. Come to school on Monday. We will be there.”

On Satuday, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw (R) and Palm Beach School Police Chief Frank Kitzerow (L), brief the media on the shooting that took place at Palm Beach Central High School. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

They were indeed. A couple of extra sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside Palm Beach Central High Monday morning. But more importantly, school district and sheriff’s officials are rewriting the security playbook this week to among other things, incorporate the area outside of a football stadium.

To be sure, it sounds like a knee-jerk over-reaction. But they don’t have much choice. The school board can either make adjustments so that parents and students feel better, or get hammered by those same parents and students for their lack of compassion.

As the Post’s Sonja Isger reported, those adjustments include morning kickoffs for some of the biggest games of the season and an hour earlier starts at 6 p.m. rather than 7 p.m. for others.

Once fans get to the game, only clear bags — and searched diaper bags — will make it through the gates.

And going forward, security staffing plans for football games and other large events will be devised by school police and paid for out of district accounts rather than pinning those obligations on each school. A group of principals will be putting together a list of protocols to be standard at events countywide.

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But how much is really enough? Especially when you’ve got teachers rethinking whether they support being armed and parents refusing to send their kids to any more football games.

A week ago, if you had mentioned doing either of those things to most Palm Beach County residents, the majority would have looked at you like you’re nuts.

Not today.

Do you think school district officials are going too far changing when games are played?… Vote in our poll and leave a comment here.

Christie: PBC school teacher may have answer to post-Hurricane Irma blues

John I. Leonard High School teacher Xi Bajipura (standing second from right) hamming it up with other shelter volunteers and residents. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

As we continue to dig ourselves out from under about 3 million cubic yards of debris, the memories of our time with Hurricane Irma remain fresh on our minds.

A friend of mine is fond of saying that many Palm Beach County residents are still walking around in a post-Irma funk… like folks just aren’t quite themselves yet.

Easy to understand, right? I mean between the loss of power, messed up traffic lights and above-mentioned vegetation debris still piled up on many neighborhood streets, it can be hard to put Irma behind you.

RELATED: Hurricane Irma: Employees question county shelter staffing policy

For a smaller group of residents, there was also the time spent at the 15 country-run shelters. The Post, last month in the days following Irma, spoke with a handful of county employees who were none-to-happy to be “volun-told” they’d have to work in shelters before, during and after the storms.

Shelter residents at John I. Leonard High School doing stretching exercises during Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

The Post’s story got lots of attention; much of it negative toward the county as readers felt for the county employees who obviously didn’t want to work at the shelters despite being paid double time-and-a-half to do so.

Well, that’s something that County Administrator Verdenia Baker will have to contend with going forward given that she has made it clear the new policy of requiring county employees to staff shelters will not be changing — at least for the remainder of this hurricane season.

It might surprise some, however, that there were shelter workers who actually did want to be there; helping friends, neighbors and strangers get through the storm.

To that end, Monday’s “Point of View” column from Xi Bajipura — “Pooja Patel” to her friends — was a pleasant reminder that no matter the inconvenience to our own personal lives, that we can be here for one another. That our county’s diversity is not a burden, but a blessing. And that there is more that unites us than divides us.

It’s just possible that the ESE VE instructor in the Social Sciences at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres. her uplifting words may bring many of us out of our post-Irma daze. Let’s hope so.

Her column is worth repeating. So here it is in its entirety:

What I witnessed in the four days serving in John I. Leonard High School’s shelter stretched my heart to how deep love can swim in times of crisis.

Imagine uprooting yourself from the comforts of your home, bed and safety in the midst of a devastating hurricane not knowing if there would be a home on your return. This cracked open the window into how refugees must feel except there is no chance of returning home.

About 2,100 people of all backgrounds and ages entered the gates of John I. Leonard. There was richness in life experiences and cultures. I met beautiful families and students of mine from Pahokee, Belle Glade, Haiti, the Caribbean, Bangladesh, Iraq, Guatemala and South America. All were united under one roof in Greenacres.

Despite conditions and finite resources, evacuees offered water and food to each other and volunteers. They shared their limited blankets, pillows and air mattresses to those who came with no bedding. They helped lift elderly from the ground. They aided the disabled using the restroom in the dark.

For the first time in some time I felt that Americans were united above politics, religion, nationality and income. I could breathe in the vastness of humanity, its unlimited greatness.

Residents who sheltered at John I. Leonard High School during Hurricane Irma made their own checkerboards and game pieces to play. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

With unconditional care, volunteers built community in the special needs and physically challenged unit. Our 19-hour volunteer shift around the clock helped us become family to our guests. We organized karaoke and Zumba classes with seniors, including a WWII veteran, amputees, and those with special needs, dementia and PTSD. We played checkers on a homemade checkerboard that one evacuee made with cardboard and Sharpie markers. Guests quickly drank so they could offer their caps and pill bottle tops for game pieces. We told stories and listened. We sent positive vibes of prayers and love to all those affected by hurricanes. One evacuee has already started planning activities and games for her next stay at the shelter.

John I. Leonard High School shelter volunteers Jim Lynch (left) and Xi Bajipura. (Photo courtesy of Xi Bajipura)

“When I first entered the shelter, I thought that I was making a big mistake. I never had a reason to stay at a shelter before. I thank God for the volunteers who made my experience at the shelter a memorable one of joy and unity during a difficult time. Let’s not forget that a few of the (horror) stories were true, but we all worked together to create an environment where God is welcomed,” said Inger Hogan, a disabled Zumba instructor who shared her passion for dance with seniors.

No matter where you come from, how much money you have, what religion you practice or what you believe in, natural disasters don’t discriminate. As humans we are all connected by natural forces that go beyond the surface. Hurricane Irma reminded us of humankind’s fragility yet beauty. I have so much gratitude for my ability to bond and serve in ways I did not know were possible.

XI BAJIPURA, GREENACRES

Amen.

Hurricane Irma: Stress leading to questions about who should be allowed in shelters

Lines form outside of Palm Beach Central high school as people wait for the storm shelter open for evacuees from Hurricane Irma in Wellington. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Things are getting tense out there. Winds are picking up, rain bands are coming through and tornado warnings are buzzing our smartphones.

And being forced to sit in a closed-in space with hundreds of folks you don’t know is not exactly ideal.

As Palm Beach County emergency management officials quickly decided how many shelters they would need, and where to care for some 16,000 Hurricane Irma refugees, local residents were making a critical call of their own.

Should I stay and shelter-in-place, or should I go to one the 13 public shelters being opened and run by hurricane relief officials?

To be sure, it was a difficult question for many of the thousands that are now in the shelters. Just as it was deciding on whether to evacuate the area, despite not being in a mandatory evacuation zone.

But such decisions are bound to produce some ill feelings. The stress of the storm is already high, and clashes over bottled water and gas lines was inevitable.

RELATED LINK: Hurricane Irma: Updates from shelters around the county; some residents are leaving

Not surprisingly, some of that stress is also spilling over into the hurricane shelters, as well.

As one Post reader put it in an email late Saturday afternoon:

Selfish.

It is hard to believe people who live in a gated community, whose homes have concrete and stucco walls, take themselves to a shelter when they are not in a evacuation zone because they are afraid

Many people were afraid, and with good reason. They may have been living in a mobile home, unstable home or on the water. Afraid is not a reason, but safety is.A couple I am thinking of did this just recently. They not only live in a fortress{ concrete stucco home) but also have hurricane shutters and a generator. Meanwhile, people are outside the shelters, sleeping in their cars unable to get in.The staff checking people in should tell people like this, who do not live in a evaculation zone to go to their safe home and let those who need shelter have it.

Adrienne Finer-Cohen, Lake Worth, Fl

While that can sound a bit harsh, she is far from the only once who shares that feeling right now.

But what do you think?

Should folks who have well-built concrete homes that are not in a flood-prone evacuation zone be allowed to take up much-needed space in a hurricane shelter, just because they are afraid?

Let me know what you think in the Comments section.

Munoz: Mandatory recess, long overdue for elementary school students

DELRAY BEACH — In this May 2010 photo, Megan Meehan, 9, a third-grader, on the bicycle during recess at Morikami Park Elementary School. (Gary Coronado/ The Palm Beach Post)

By Valeria Munoz

Palm Beach Post Intern

Kids are learning to connect with technology these days, but they are disconnecting from each other. Thus, Florida’s new law mandating 20 minutes of recess for students K-5 is long overdue.

Although the sweeping education law, based on House Bill 7069, has been criticized by many educators including Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa as it cuts public schools’ construction money in order to share with charter schools, one of its few silver linings is required recess.

Communication, understanding, and coexistence cannot be taught from an app. When I was in elementary school, negotiating who got to have the good jump rope or basketball, having monkey bar races, and playing endless rounds of tag, left us exhausted but content. We learned the importance of patience as we anticipated recess anxiously. And we worked together to remind the teacher if the lesson went into playground time.

With more public schools incorporating different levels of learning (gifted, advanced, and regular) the difficulty in course load is growing. While the boost in learning is appreciated, some of the pressure needs to be alleviated from students’ shoulders. Allowing children to put down their pencils and workbooks for a set amount of time will help them return to their studies more refreshed, relaxed, and alert.

Of course, with freedom comes responsibility; teachers will have to keep an attentive eye for any bullying lest anyone try to be the “king/queen of the swings.”

Limestone Creek elementary school students in Ms. Wimer’s fourth grade class play during recess on the school’s playground, Wednesday, February 24, 2016. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should spend at least 60 minutes exercising each day.  Not only does it provide them with physical benefits, but recess allows students to interact with their peers and make their own decisions in regard to friendships, a skill they will definitely need by the time they get to high school.

When we reached fifth grade, some kids decided to think they were “too cool” for recess and would sit on the side. But once they hit middle school, it was a different story. And in high school? Those same students were asking for the return of recess.

In short, enjoy recess while you still have it, because one day you may find yourself in an Advanced Placement (AP) block classroom wishing the break lasted longer than five minutes.

Valeria Munoz, a recent graduate of Boca Raton High School, is starting college as a journalism major. She is now an intern at the Palm Beach Post

Christie: Post reader raises voucher issue in opposing DeVos as education secretary

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

UPDATE: Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence voted to break a 50-50 tie.

As a divided U.S. Senate moves closer today to voting on the confirmation of billionaire Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary, the country appears just as divided over whether she should be the next person to guide policy for our public schools.

There is of course, the division over DeVos’ unfettered support for “school choice” in the form of taxpayer money going to charter schools and private school vouchers.

But there is also the question whether she is qualified to make decisions about our traditional public school system. The concerns largely arose from her testimony before the Senate committee wherein she apparently gave less-than-stellar answers to questions about public schools — which she admitted that she has have very little experience with.

A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)
A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Today’s controversial vote motivated West Palm Beach attorney Kimberley Spire-Oh to write a Point of View op-ed opposing DeVos — but for an unexpected reason.

Spire-Oh echoed the concerns of a growing number of parents who favor school choice, but oppose DeVos based on her lack of concern around vouchers — especially those used for disabled students like Sprie-Oh’s own son.

“I am not opposed to school choice. My son is a beneficiary of choice programs, having attended an arts magnet school that provided him with support and motivation by allowing him to pursue one of his passions. There are excellent private schools in the McKay program (and charter schools) that work collaboratively with families and meet a need in the community. On the flipside of this success, I have seen that the voucher programs being held as shining examples often do not serve the needs of many of the most difficult-to-educate students, the ones these programs are touted to help.

We need a Secretary of Education who understands these considerations and is willing to do the hard work required to make high-quality school choice options available to truly all students, not just those that are easy to educate.”

Do you believe that DeVos is qualified to be the next Education Secretary?

 

Letter: Dog walker shouldn’t out-earn teacher

 

08/24/02 -- At the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League on Military Trail in West Palm Beach, dog training volunteer Bonnie Peacock (cq) of Jupiter works with a male dalmation named Jake. The ARL has 75 dog-training volunteers who have given 3500 hours of training time to 1400 dogs. (The ARL has a total of about 400 volunteers, including cat socializers and dog walkers.) "It is very satisfying when you work with a dog and then you see him go home with a family," says Nielsen.  "It is good to know your small amount of work with the dog made a difference." BRUCE R. BENNETT/Staff Photographer
BRUCE R. BENNETT/Staff Photographer

In reference to the article that substitute teachers are paid $13.50 per hour (“Substitutes in county earn less than bus drivers,” April 25), I did some research and found that my friend’s daughter is paid $15 for walking one dog.

Priorities, people; priorities.

ELLIOT SLOTNICK, BOYNTON BEACH

Letter: Where’s Lottery’s boost for local education?

A Fantasy 5 ticket bought in Lantana and worth $56,214 remains unclaimed.

The Palm Beach County government wants to raise the sales tax for education; that’s what they say now.

Whatever happened to the $29 billion the Florida Lottery says it contributed for education?

MICHAEL DESOUZA, LAKE PARK

Letter: No accountability for school stunt where man caught on fire

fire-incident
A performer caught fire while performing a stunt at a pep rally at Atlantic High School in Delray.

It is sickening that Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa would go on TV and stumble about this event (“Pep rally stunt sparks fire at Atlantic High,” March 16). The obvious reason is that he is trying to protect his job and that of others.

These people are supposed to be in a position to make a decision, which goes up the ladder of supervision, which apparently has no concerns. Where is the School Board response to this event? Are they going to take proper action?

AL NOLL, JUPITER

RELATED: Here’s how much the fire-breather billed Atlantic High for his botched show

Letter: Don’t shortchange schools for culture

share122Does Rena Blades, the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County’s executive director, really think that giving millions to cultural organizations will “create prosperity for our community” (Feb. 24)? She needs to open her eyes to Lake Worth, where the Cultural Council resides, and look beyond that white building to the homeless people around the corner.

She needs to explore the Guatemalan community, where there often are several families living under one roof.

Will the prosperity spread to those populations, too?

Does it matter that in our school system, our children are no longer taught cursive, nor do they learn typing skills — typing with only two fingers? Mike Murgio, a Palm Beach County School Board member, is “having a problem understanding” that the School District could take a $10 million hit because of the cultural groups.

I am exposed to many nonprofit organizations — cultural as well as human services — and support many of them. They rely on caring, compassionate community members for support.

I understand our community thrives on tourism, but we need to educate our youth by teaching them how to be the next leaders of this country. Without the proper education, these children won’t even be able to spell “Cultural Council,” let alone support it.

BEVERLEE MILLER RAYMOND, PALM BEACH

Editor’s note: Beverlee Miller Raymond is president of the nonprofit Extraordinary Charities.