Shooting drills enacted to keep students prepared

As the Putnam County School District moves toward including “non-traditional” lockdown drills in its emergency preparedness policy, officials are working to assure parents of its benefits.

The drills would take place without warning and when students aren’t inside the classrooms, according to a letter issued by the school district. The goal is to help schools be better prepared in the event of an active shooter.

Superintendent Rick Surrency said parents wouldn’t be informed of the drills ahead of time to ensure students take them seriously.

“What we’re trying to work on is getting students prepared for the unexpected,” he said.

State officials have been requiring school districts to implement new protocols that would improve readiness in the event of a shooting since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.

Last spring, the school board approved the guardian program, which allowed the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office to train school employees to carry concealed firearms.

And last month, the school district amended its emergency preparedness policy to include active shooter training conducted as often as other emergency drills. The policy also requires the superintendent to schedule tests for campus emergency communications systems.

The sheriff’s office currently has resource officers on campuses countywide and would play a role in the drills.

“We want students to be as safe and prepared as possible,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Allison Waters-Merritt said.

Parents expressed concern about the new drills, Surrency said. But he said the point is to ensure students are prepared for the worst.

“We’re sensitive to their feelings, and the last thing we want to do is alarm students and make them afraid of going to school,” Surrency said. “But the need to prepare the students for tragedy outweighs anything we’ve done in the past.”

Responses to a potential threat were tested last month after two shooting threats were made against Putnam County schools in the course of a week. 

The threatening calls to James A. Long Elementary and Jenkins Middle schools were ultimately found to be pranks, but Surrency said it showed how prepared schools are for the real thing.

Both callers — a Jenkins student and a Volusia County runaway who was found on the Jenkins campus — were arrested and charged with calling in a false report concerning the use of a firearm.

Shortly after, the school district posted to its social media pages a video featuring Surrency and Sheriff Gator DeLoach warning would-be pranksters against calling in fake threats.

The sheriff’s office said the threats would be taking serious and callers would be charged with felonies.

Palatka Daily News

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