In the wake of the mass shooting Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is looking at long-term ways to better protect the county's elementary schools.
According to sheriff's spokesman Detective Larry McKinnon, the sheriff's office is working with the Hillsborough County School Board to develop safeguards to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring at a local elementary school.
McKinnon said the sheriff's office is developing a committee to look into ways to better protect elementary students, including the possibility of posting permanent deputies at elementary schools.
The sheriff's office already has school resource deputies assigned to middle and high schools throughout the county.
"Of course, there's a cost associated with posting deputies at elementary schools and we have to determine where the funding will come from," said McKinnon. "But nothing is out of range when it comes to the safety of our kids."
It's a subject that's personal to McKinnon. He has two daughters-in-law who are teachers and grandchildren attending Hillsborough County schools.
"The sheriff is committed to working with the school board on this," he said. "It's an absolute priority. We have to give our kids a safe place to go to school."
Following the shootings, deputies were temporarily posted at all Hillsborough County elementary schools this week. And fearful parents have been pressuring the sheriff's office to make it a permanent arrangement.
"I believe we should have a police officer at every school," said Patch reader Ed Harris, a former military police officer who has three children in public schools. "There should only be one way in and one way out during school hours. Most schools do this anyway and many already have a resource officer. So it would not be that big a deal to step it up a bit."
"Police would be a start," said former police officer Angela Roberts. She also suggested that schools keep all doors locked, add video cameras to all school entrances and install panic alarms to alert law enforcement in an emergency.
Patch reader Charles Levy suggested using lottery funds or enacting a security tax to fund the deputies at elementary schools.
If the community isn't willing to fund additional deputies, Brandon veterinarian Dr. Richard Kane suggested posting qualified volunteers at the elementary schools.
"We could have people who are trained in the use of guns and have had background checks posted on the school premises at all times," said Kane. "I don't think there would be a shortage of volunteers. I would volunteer in a second."
Others have suggested installing metal detectors at the entrances of all schools. However, Hillsborough County School District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe noted that a metal detector would not prevent someone from seeking an alternative way into the school.