Rick Parfitt, Director of Safety and Security for Lee County Schools, speaks to Rotary Club on school safety and security
Rick Parfitt, Director of Safety and Security for Lee County Schools, speaks to Rotary Club on school safety and security
At a recent Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club meeting the somber topic of school safety and security was brought to light. It is a tragic reality that school children, teachers, and staff are keenly aware that in today’s world schools are not the safe havens, they once were. School children are now receiving instructions on what to do in emergency situations and threat of harm from someone breaching school grounds or from internal safety threats.

To help us understand what the Lee County School District is implementing in schools throughout our county, Rotary invited Richard Parfitt, Director of Safety and Security for Lee County Schools to give us an overview of what his department is implementing within the district according to mandates outlined from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement established during the 2018 legislative session. Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida is the school where 17 students and teachers were killed, and 14 others critically wounded in February 2018.

At the time of the Parkland shooting, Lee County had a vacancy in the Lee County Security Directors position and realized the importance of getting that position filled. Hiring a known candidate for the position was the smartest move the County could have made. In March 2018, Parfitt was hired. He had been the police chief and director of public safety at Florida South-Western State College in Fort Myers. He has held the position for more than 10 years. He knew the responsibilities of his new position and he knew the areas he was going to serve.

Let’s just look at some Lee County school data, it is the 33rd largest school district in the US with 90,000 students and 12,000 + full and part-time employees. Working to keep them all safe, is a tremendous responsibility.

State school security and safety mandates were established after the Parkland School Shootings:
• Threat Assessment Teams (TAT) must be established at each school (120 for Lee), whose duties include the coordination of resources and assessment and intervention with individuals whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of school staff or students…effective September 1, 2018
• TATs will be made up of teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and school resource officers. This team will focus on identifying threats and stopping attacks. Training to identify and pay attention to some of the red flags, that previously have fallen under the radar. Florida, also, has a red-flag law regarding guns - a risk protection order to take weapons away from those that pose threat.
• Florida has created an app where the community can send in tips to their designated assessment teams. Get the word out.
• Once a tip is sent, the team will immediately interview the student, friends, parents and even neighbors as well as check social media.
• Schools must have a Safety Officer in every public school.
• Schools must have Mental Health Awareness training for school personal
• School must be aware of changes in mental health referrals.
• Provisions:
- Amended a threat statue – now written threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism
- Risk Protection Orders – Red Flag Law
- Mental Health funding
- Emergency drills, active shooter training
- Zero Tolerance

Many of these security and safety protection rulings have been addressed in Lee County. TAT teams have been formed, Safety Officers are in all schools. A Risk assessment process is being used by the TAT teams - FSST Florida Safe School Assessment Tool.

Director Parfitt announced last week, safety cameras have been installed at more than half of the elementary school front door entrances and staff are able to monitor outside schools and visitors seeking entrance. Front doors are kept locked, and staff must unlock doors for entry. All elementary and middle schools will be getting this type of school security. Lee County high schools already have security cameras.

Director Parfitt, also. pointed out that internal student assessment processes are extremely important. Many of these school attacks have been perpetrated by students themselves or by people familiar with the schools they attack. Mental health, student bullying events, poor home environment conditions, and feelings of isolation are significant signs that students need help coping with their problems. Lee County is doing its best but there is more to be done and local and state agency are continuingly improving safety and security measures to protect our school children. A mobile reporting App for anyone that has a concern about school safety – FortifyFl – has been activated for the reporting of suspicious activity and threats to schools, students, school staff, local law enforcement, school officials, and state-level authorities.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m. Fridays at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, Sanibel. Guests are welcomed.