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As schools reopen, safety concerns still persist

So far only virtual classes are under way for students at West Riviera Elementary School in Riviera Beach. (WPEC) {br}
So far only virtual classes are under way for students at West Riviera Elementary School in Riviera Beach. (WPEC)
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As the new school year gets underway, online or in-person, nagging concerns about student safety won’t go away.

Following the Parkland massacre in February 2018, two parents who lost their children that day have joined law enforcement and state officials sitting on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Commission. This week that panel convened virtually, with some old issues resurfacing.

“One of (the takeaways) that resonates with me again and again and again was the failure to communicate, between agencies, between employees," said Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the mass shooting.

"People had information and then didn’t share it,” said Petty, who along with Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old victim Alex, brought up the Fortify Florida app where people can report threats, including those at schools.

“The way it’s structured today seems to me an opportunity for information silos,” Petty said.

The parents cited a comparison of tips to the state’s Fortify Florida app, versus tips to other reporting apps.

“Ninety-six percent of them were actionable, versus only 27 percent were actionable from Fortify Florida,” Schachter said.

Commission Chair Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, of Pinellas County, said in his experience, the Fortify Florida app works well. It’s just most people use the other apps.

The commission also addressed the break-down in moving to a standardized behavioral threat assessment process, with the information to go into a statewide electronic database.

“So that if you have a student that moves from one district to another, or in adjoining districts, such as Parkland being on the border of Palm Beach County, (those in other counties) with appropriate access levels, would have access to the threat assessments," Sheriff Gualtieri said. "But none of it’s automated and nobody has access to it, other than on an individual basis.”

The sheriff said it was disappointing, but given the COVID-19 situation, it would be tough getting the legislature to fund moving the information into a database.

“That’s kind of reminiscent of ‘here we go again,’ and ‘here we go again’ is what Mr. Petty was talking about with the Fortify Florida app,” Gualtieri said.

The commission's next meeting will likely take place in January or February.

Unfortunately, the sheriff said in the face of COVID-19, it will likely be tough getting the legislature to fund the statewide threat database.

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