Olympic Heights opens 2019-2020 school year with both physical and procedural security upgrades

School+security+monitor+Mr.+Robert+Police+%28seated%29+checks+student+ID+badges+of+%28from+front+to+back%29+Hunter+Moneck%2C+Katelynn+Dos+Santos%2C+Jose+Simbaco%2C+and+Jenny+Paul+as+they+enter+through+the+new+security+gate+at+the+front+entrance+to+the+Olympic+Heights+campus.
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Olympic Heights opens 2019-2020 school year with both physical and procedural security upgrades

School security monitor Mr. Robert Police (seated) checks student ID badges of (from front to back) Hunter Moneck, Katelynn Dos Santos, Jose Simbaco, and Jenny Paul as they enter through the new security gate at the front entrance to the Olympic Heights campus.

School security monitor Mr. Robert Police (seated) checks student ID badges of (from front to back) Hunter Moneck, Katelynn Dos Santos, Jose Simbaco, and Jenny Paul as they enter through the new security gate at the front entrance to the Olympic Heights campus.

School security monitor Mr. Robert Police (seated) checks student ID badges of (from front to back) Hunter Moneck, Katelynn Dos Santos, Jose Simbaco, and Jenny Paul as they enter through the new security gate at the front entrance to the Olympic Heights campus.

School security monitor Mr. Robert Police (seated) checks student ID badges of (from front to back) Hunter Moneck, Katelynn Dos Santos, Jose Simbaco, and Jenny Paul as they enter through the new security gate at the front entrance to the Olympic Heights campus.

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“Safety is our top priority.”

These words, spoken by Olympic Heights principal Ms. Kelly Mills Burke, sum up the evident shift in school focus ever since the events of February 14, 2018. 

In light of recent school shootings that have infiltrated our world and compromised our sense of security, safety measures have been put in place at OH and at schools all across the country to prevent these nightmares from becoming reality once again. 

OH students and staff were greeted by a completely gated school as they returned from summer break this year. Thanks to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed by the state of Florida and a property sales tax approved by Palm Beach County voters in November 2018 that allocated $50 million to PBC schools, security was upgraded at all schools in the district. These changes can be clearly seen at OH, which was once an open campus where students could enter from multiple ingresses. The number of entrances has now been limited to only three (the front gate, the bus loop area west of the 8000 building, and the student parking lot entrance between the two 2000 buildings) so that administration and staff can closely monitor who is coming in and remind students (just like with dress code) of their IDs

IDs have been a source of major concentration in the new security efforts. “My favorite thing to talk about is the IDs,” Burke admitted. “I think it’s a big safety issue. Students and staff are doing a great job with it so that we can deal with it right away and notice someone that may not belong on campus, question them, and get them to their right location.” 

There are severe consequences for students not wearing these vital badges. If a student does not have their ID on them or loses it, they will get sent to the media center, where they will be forced to pay a fee of five dollars for a new ID. Anybody that does not have the five dollars with them will have that amount added to their obligation list. School district police officer Lisa Negrone has already started issuing detentions to students who refuse to wear their IDs and have had to be told more than once to make the ID visible. 

Senior Alyson Garcia definitely feels safer with the new improvements. She believes that the updates, such as the single point of entry in the morning and the sturdy gates were a wonderful idea because they minimize the possibility of outsiders entering. However, in regards to other recently added safety measures to our school, she is not particularly pleased. “I do not believe that the IDs were the most useful investment,” Garcia argues. “It would have been wiser to spend that money on other infrastructure improvements.” 

Garcia’s opinion echoes that of other students who find the seemingly endless ID checks to be a nuisance, causing more lines to get in and out of the school, extra detentions, and an increased expense for both the students and the school to make and copy the IDs. Nevertheless, even Burke recognizes that more must be done to the infrastructure of our school, revealing that some additions will in fact arrive very soon. 

Growing up in an age of mass shootings and public violence has led the next generation to be accustomed to hearing about them throughout their educational experience and engaging in their resulting security measures. This is displayed by no other than a current OH freshman, Parker Gasper. “I feel safe at school,” he stated. “There are always school police driving around the school all the time.  Doors are always locked. Since all the teachers, adults, and students wear IDs I feel safe that there are not any random people roaming around campus.” 

As Gasper only just arrived on campus this year, he provides powerful insight into what the lower grade levels are doing to deter violence. For instance, he also described how the wearing and checking of IDs throughout the entire school day was something he was completely used to because his middle school did the same thing. This message essentially contradicts that of Garcia, a senior, demonstrating the difference that three years made on the programming of children to prepare for the unfortunate brutalities of humanity.  

OH has also just started promoting the FortifyFL application, a safety tool that allows students and parents to easily report suspicious activity to school personnel and law enforcement. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (MSDHSPSA) and SB 7030 requires all schools to install FortifyFL on all school computers. On July 1, 2018, any threat to a school was elevated to a second degree felony; therefore, students must be extremely careful when sharing information on social media networks because their messages could be reported instantly and anonymously to law enforcement. According to School district police chief Frank Kitzerow, “This is just one way the community can pitch in to make sure that suspicious activity or threats on social media are reported to law enforcement.” 

Students are taking this important advice into consideration. While Garcia admits that she has not downloaded the FortifyFL app, she did in fact install the Palm Beach County Student Project app (another tool promoted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the PBCSD), which “provides powerful two-way communication to report threats, suspicious activity, and receive information & alerts.” In addition, according to WPTV News Channel 5, the Tactical Operation Center for PBC School Police has developed new technology that enables district police personnel to visually see footage from over 180 school campuses on computer screens. From the apps to the computers, technology is being implemented to hopefully coordinate a faster response and save lives. 

Another change conducted this year is that students are unable to enter the school until 7:00 a.m.; previously, the gate was open at least 30 minutes prior to that. This measure is designed to allow the staff extra time to secure the school before the students arrive on campus. On the other hand, it has also led to increased congestion in the mornings, forcing Burke to send an email out to parents warning them not to drop their kids off on Lyons Road where they are vulnerable to cars and other road-side dangers.

Regardless, OH is fortunate to have had two full-time, real police officers since last year. Officers Negrone and Brian Khan are both retired New York Police Department veterans and have undergone extensive training, including 160 hours during the summer with all other SDPBC officers. However, they are the only two armed guards on campus, responsible for protecting over 2,400 students and faculty.

AP Microeconomics and AP Government and Politics teacher Carlos Ramon offered some possible suggestions for improvement, utilizing an economic perspective: “I would like to see higher fencing, more security cameras, and possibly a permanent police presence, not just in school, but on the outskirts of the school to ensure that the traffic is moving effectively and within the realm of keeping everyone safe.” His words are similar to that of Burke, who similarly agrees that adding more personnel would ideally help to monitor the entire campus in the future. 

Other recently added measures include the rigid enforcement of locked doors and the implementation of duties for every teacher. Even the administration has time slots where they are out monitoring the hallways, checking for any intruders or strange activity. Parents, teachers, and students are also more actively engaged than ever, as email blasts, all-calls, PTO/SAC meetings, and grade-level assemblies have been conducted addressing safety. “I think that we will be successful with it, and if we all work together, the school will be safe, and that is our number one goal,” Burke commented. 

Gasper’s mother Nicole Davis values the strong communication between families and administration at OH. She appreciates how parents are constantly updated via phone and email messages every time a drill and/or “incident” happens, which helps ease her mind so that she is not waiting until the evening to hear about the day events. Davis feels comfortable that the school will protect her child, even though she is fearful every once in a while that something terrible might happen to her son, admitting, “I am not sure there is much I can do while my son is at OH and I am at work to keep him safe on a daily basis but trust the school is following all safety measures to protect all the students.” 

With all these upgrades, it is no surprise that even bigger features are yet to arrive on campus to address current layout flaws. According to Burke, by the second semester there will be a cut through, an actual road, built between the bus loop and the main gate so that if an individual needs to get to the back of the school, they can safely drive there. Additionally, she revealed that there will be a fully air-conditioned and rain-proof guard shack with internet access built at the front of the school, where a guard will watch over who comes onto the OH campus. 

Within the coming months, she says, there is also going to be a single point of entry with a buzzer and no open gates. A person is going to be sitting at a table with a camera; he or she will buzz the front office and once a person shows their ID, they will be allowed to enter. If the student needs to go somewhere off campus, they will have to wait in the room by the principal’s office (which will be the point of entry for everybody) until somebody comes to get them. This process will be in effect after the winter holidays, according to the principal. 

With these new updates in mind and hopefully even more to come in the future, OH seeks to ensure the safety of all its students and staff so that there is no recurrence of the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglass of Valentine’s Day 2018 here on the campus of OH.

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