CENTRAL FLORIDA — Tens of thousands of students in Brevard, Flagler and Seminole counties on Friday were the first to return to school this year, with safety the top priority at campuses across the region.
Here's a look at what students, administrators and parents and guardians could expect on the first day of classes:
- SEE BELOW: Brevard County eyes safety as school year starts ▼
- SEE BELOW: School safety a big push for Seminole County ▼
- SEE BELOW: Flagler County aims at preparing for the school year ▼
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- See our Back To School section here
As Brevard students are getting ready to head to school, things are going to be a little different this year. Over the summer, Brevard County schools wrapped up their single point entry project.
It consists of every school now having a fence surrounding the property and during school hours, all other entries will be locked.
Which might cause some delays dropping off students at school Friday morning. Parents and guardians are advised to make sure to leave a few extra minutes to maneuver around the changes.
According to the school board, the project cost about $9 million to complete and it is paid for by the half-cent sales surtax passed by Brevard County voters in 2014.
The half-cent sales surtax provides funding for critical facility renewal, educational technology and security projects throughout the school district.
The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee recommended and the Brevard County School Board approved the acceleration of the district school's security program using a temporary transfer of resources from facility renewal to security.
— Krystel Knowles, staff
New Brevard Schools Superintendent School visits schools
The first day of school in Brevard County is a wrap, as thousands of kids headed back to class after a few months off.
And the district's new superintendent Dr. Mark Mullins was out and about this first day of school -- talking to students, teachers and staff.
In a way, the former teacher went back to his roots.
It was exciting day at Harbor City Elementary, as he greeted kitchen staff.
"How is our food services team today?, he said. "I had to come in and say thank you for all of your hard work."
He took a few moments with the school resource officer.
Then Dr. Mullins headed into classrooms to watch learning on the very first day. He also met many of the 400 kids at Harbor City.
Many of the teachers were already diving their students into lessons, which impressed Dr. Mullins, who is a former teacher himself.
"Our teachers prepare in the pre-planning week, and even over the summer, to take advantage of every moment they have with their kids … to ensure they have everything they need to be successful later on," Dr. Mullins told Spectrum News.
He also rode the bus with students to South Lake Elementary in Titusville earlier Friday.
That school had closed several years ago due to budget problems, but it’s now is back open as a STEAM school, which adds "Art" to the traditional STEM studies.
— Greg Pallone, staff
School safety a big push for Seminole County
Schools are stepping up security this new school year and that includes in Seminole County, where classes get underway for 68,000 students.
The district could not reveal all of its improvements, but some are clearly visible, such as the fencing around the entire campus at the new Millennium Middle School in Sanford.
Now, there is a single point of entry at the middle school and lots of surveillance cameras.
New Millennium Middle School is equipped with the latest technology for teachers in the classroom, but it is also set up with start-of-the-art security systems.
"If an employee activates the RAVEs soft panic button, well that works in collaboration with our camera system so immediately off site we can start looking at the incident in real time and make tactical decisions as we move forward," said Seminole County Sheriff's Office and Seminole County Public Schools Director of School Safety and Security Capt. Rick Francis.
The school, which has a focus on performance and fine arts, was designed with input from the district's safety and security director.
"We put into the plan easier to supervise, better sight lines to see around, it's definitely designed for 2018 security," Walt Griffin, Seminole County Public Schools Superintendent
Across the school district there will be enhance security measures and each Seminole County school already has a trained school resource officer and starting Friday all high schools will get two officers.
By January, middle schools will have two.
"We will do our very best to protect and provide them a positive and safe environment," said Margaret Gunderson, New Millennium Middle School principal. "We encourage them to see something, say something, let us know when something is occurring."
— Jerry Hume, staff
Safety top importance at Flagler schools
Friday was the first day of school for Flagler County students, and it was LaShakia Moore’s first day as principal at RymFire Elementary School.
"Today has been nothing short of amazing. I love this school. I believe in the people that work here," Moore said.
On Moore's first day, she already had her top priorities set.
"That is our top priority is to keep our students safe," Moore said.
She said they already have many safety measure in place.
"Doors (are) locked at all times, ensuring that everyone that enters our schools comes in through the front door and that they are are scanned in," Moore said.
Middle and High school students and faculty also have to wear their ID badges visibly at all times.
On top of that, every school across Flagler County has a school resource deputy.
Safety is at the top priority Rymfire Elementary this year with more Flagler County Sheriff's deputies on campus.
Their patrol cars across campuses have been spotted and with most schools, security has been ramped up.
This year as far as safety changes, middle school and high school students must have their IDs visible at all times.
This week, all district employees and students went through two hours of active training to make sure they know what to do in an emergency situation.
The Sheriff's Office stated they will undergo monthly drills just like fire drills.
A school resource deputy (SRD) will be stationed at every one of the nine schools in the county and high schools now have two deputies on campus and one at a charter school.
The Sheriff's Office says they have 13 total law enforcement officers.
They all went through extensive training this summer and the cost of their jobs have been mostly covered by the school board and the county for $1.6 million.
The superintendent is grateful the state made this happen.
"I think that we've taken the best precautions that we can the SRDs are good guys and we feel like they will do well with our students. As far as mentoring, I feel real good about it. I think parents will appreciate the fact that we actually have sheriff officers in the school," said James Tager.
The superintendent said that the school district has a new mental health plan in place and school officials are trying to fill all nine-school psychologist openings to have one on every campus
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly told Spectrum News 13 back in February of this year after the shooting in Parkland that deputies have investigated more than 30 incidents of school threats and made arrests.
He says this school year deputies will not tolerate any threats.
The district is also implementing a mental health plan and right now is in search for school psychologists.
— Brittany Jones, staff