How safe are Lee County schools; how can they be safer?

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Metal detector at the entrance of a Southwest Florida school. Credit: WINK News

Among your responses to WINK News’ back-to-school survey, parents asked for increased security at Southwest Florida schools. In the wake of a shooting hoax, WINK brought your concerns and questions to school district officials.

WINK News sat down with David Newlan, head of safety and security for all Lee County schools, a district with more than 90,000 students, and told him exactly what parents, teachers and students said they need to feel safe in school. In WINK’s survey, parent after parent and teacher after teacher asked for extra protection in schools and more transparency from district leaders.

Parents were relieved when reports of an active shooter at South Fort Myers High School  turned ou to be a hoax on Friday, but that relief was followed by anger. Yahaira Matias was one parent of a South Fort Myers High student who joined the chorus calling for increased safety and security measures at all Lee County schools.

“I don’t care if it’s even putting a number padlock for the back entrances so that teachers know who is going in and who is going out,” Matias said.

Parents never want to see images of Lee County deputies running through school hallways with guns, or middle school girls pointing bb guns at other students, like happened at Lehigh Middle School. They don’t want to read about the repeated school threats posted on social media. One Lee County mom told WINK News she’s scared to send her child to school.

“It’s getting ridiculous—the postings on, you know, Twitter, Instagram, Snap[chat], these kids wanting to do stuff to the schools or to the students,” said Vanessa Metzger. “I mean, to me, it’s getting out of control.”

WINK told Dave Newlan that, for example, many parents want more armed school resource officers in every school.

“We have to also consider our law enforcement partners and what they’re capable of supplying to the schools,” Newlan said. “Obviously, if I can increase school resource officers in our schools, we want to do that.”

Newlan also offered his thoughts on the district-wide installation of metal detectors in more Lee County schools.

“If you’re trying to walk 2,000 to 3,000 students through a metal detector, what does that look like?” Newlan said. “Metal detectors for students to walk through, that could take hours.”

Newlan’s message to everyone who took the survey: If you have a question or a concern, call him.

“There’s not just one person that’s in charge of security, it’s the whole community,” Newlan said. “It’s not just me, it’s not just staff; it’s the parents, staff, it’s the kids, that we have that partnership, that trust that they can, if they feel they have a concern… they can trust us to report concerns, something they may have seen or heard , so we can address it.”

Newlan offered his number, (239) 337-8554.

Responses to the WINK survey also mentioned concerns about doors not locking. Newlan says the external doors at schools are checked constantly by district leaders. When asked how many times they have been checked at Lee County schools this school year, he didn’t have a number, but asked parents and staff to give him a call if they know of any doors that are not locking.

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