Safety Commission eyes improvements in school safety, reporting

Reporter: Peter Fleischer Writer: Jack Lowenstein

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission says “there were flaws” with the state’s school safety reporting policies, but it also expressed optimism for the future.

The commission met for the second straight day Tuesday in Sunrise to review how schools report on safety incidents.

Changes are expected and will center around training and data collection. The safety commission continues to tweak the system, hoping for improvements in those two areas.

The commission’s first step in evolving was to admit issues to begin with. Chair Bob Gualtieri, also the Pinellas County sheriff, was upfront during the meeting.

“The flaws were caused by a multitude of issues,” Gualtieri said. “Some of it was apathy. Some of it was confusion over definitions. Some of it was a lack of training.”

To improve student safety and School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting issues (SESIR) the commission will now require school districts to report SESIR data every month, rather than at the end of the school year. There have also been improvements and heightened requirements for district personnel to receive training.

“I think training is a major component in SESIR and how accurate it is, and how districts are doing a good job or not doing a good job,” Commissioner Max Schrachter said.

“There are opportunities within a year now to understand where there are issues and where issues need to be addressed down to the school level,” Commissioner Ryan Petty said.

SESIR incidents, which are defined as particularly violent or disruptive, appeared on our radar after then-assistant principal Peggy Slichter, with Manatee Elementary School, claimed the school downplayed serious issues.

Lee County records show the school reported zero SESIR cases to the state for the 2020-21 school year.

The District investigated Slichter’s claims and found no wrongdoing, but Florida Department of Education is still looking into the allegations against Lee County Schools. Slichter also has a pending lawsuit against the district who does not have to respond to the suit until next month.

“There’s a lot of concerns that people have about SESIR,” Gualtieri said. “About the reporting, about the accuracy.”

Overall, the commission is optimistic that school and student safety will continue to improve. But long-term data is required before they know the true impact of these changes.

“You have to have time for it to develop and for it to bake to know whether there’s been an improvement,” Gualtieri said. “We will not know if there’s been an improvement until we see the data in early ’22.”

The commission feels early 2022 will be the first time it can tell whether recent changes to safety and SESIR reporting are working correctly.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.