Lee County schools focusing on prevention when it comes to safety

Nearly 100,000 students in Lee County return to school next week, and tens of thousands more when you add Collier, Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades and Hendry counties.

Sadly, for some, learning’s not top of mind. Safety and security is priority.

Rick Parfitt, Chief of Security for the School District of Lee County gives himself an 8 out of 10. And that’s before he establishes a new standard response protocol or SRP.

He said, “We’re standardizing the language, on those type of emergencies on how we will lockdown, lockout, evacuate our schools.”

LINK: Lee County School Safety Information

A critical element of success is the introduction of threat assessment teams. Their job is to review and make recommendations on potential threats.

Lori Brooks is the director for school counseling and mental health with the School District of Lee County. The essential questions for her are, “are you making a threat, or do you pose a threat, that’s really the essential question.”

And then there is the increased presence of mental health professionals in the schools.

“Our young people even our adults are not as connected human being to human being as they used to be,” Brooks said. “We’re all doing this and it’s more the social media and the disconnect, which ironically increases the anxiety and the depression levels in our individuals.”

We asked Parfitt if he considers the kids going to school next week to be safer? “They’re safer in their schools than a lot of their neighborhoods and a lot of other activities they do, so yes, they are.”

They want to spend 80 percent of their time, money and energy on prevention – the rest on reaction.

They hope with more emphasis on safety from the start, they can lessen the need to react to any kind of emergency.

Mental Health

The emphasis on the mental health of students has become a priority in schools, especially since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Brooks says, “We have seen a higher level of need to address mental health in our children and also now, unfortunately, as a result of Parkland the ability to address those needs. I’m thankful that we have the ability to do that, just concerned it came out of tragedy.”

These professionals, in every school, play a big role as key members of threat assessment teams. Their mission is to mitigate threats.

“We’re trying to assess through the collecting of information exactly what the nature of the threat is,” Brooks explained. “A student can make a threat, unfortunately, kids say things sometimes, even adults do but do they physically pose a threat to the individual or individuals involved?”

LINK: Lee Schools Mental Health and Wellness Portal

The team is trained to resolve issues from threats written on bathroom walls and worse.

“It’s all in how we talk to our students,” she says. “We ask them questions and in the majority of cases, the student is going to start talking to us because they really have something else going on that they really want help with and their intent is not to do what they wrote on the bathroom wall. It’s really a cry for help.”

And parents are partners in this mission.

Reporter:Rich Kolko
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