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In Wake Of High School Bomb Scare Superintendent Says Schools Are Safe

“We have in place emergency plans for all of our schools," said Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia Aug. 19 thanked police and security officials for their quick response to this week’s suspected bomb plot at Freedom High School.

“The arrest of one of our past students this week shows how partnerships really matter,” Elia said in opening comments at her annual back-to-school news conference.

“The only reason to mention [the incident] is that we need to applaud Tampa Police, the Sheriff’s Department, our security, Freedom High School and the Plant City Police Department. All of them helped us as partners in resolving this case,” she said.

Elia also offered her gratitude to the individual who tipped off Tampa Police.

This year’s conference, held at the new Girl’s Preparatory Academy at Ferrell Middle Magnet School in East Tampa, served as a showcase for Elia to outline the district’s new initiatives for the 2011-12 school year, which begins Tuesday.

But a large contingent of media was on hand to ask the superintendent about the events that unfolded this week in New Tampa.

Although Elia said that security was not a new agenda for Hillsborough schools, she did said that more police and security would be stationed at Freedom for the first day of classes.

“As a natural outcome of a scare at Freedom High this week, everyone is going to be heightened as to who’s on campus,” she said.

Still, Elia was confident about the opening of the school year and the preparations at each of the more than 250 schools in the district.

“We have in place emergency plans for all of our schools … and, better yet, we have great relationships with our partners in law enforcement, and I know that we will have in place the necessary things to be safe,” she said.

Chief David Friedberg, security manager for the district, said he looked forward to a smooth opening next week despite the events at Freedom. He said every year the district coordinates with local law enforcement officials to provide extra security at all the schools, namely for traffic concerns.

Still, there will be some minor tweaks to the system next week.

“Will I have additional folks at Freedom? Yes, simply to calm nerves. Do we think there is any reason for concern? The answer is absolutely not,” Friedberg said. “But we will provide extra security and police presence.”

Friedberg spoke glowingly of the Tampa Police Department and the speed with which they reacted when they received the tip about the suspected plot.

“I’m so much happier to talk now about what was done right and all the things that went well versus we’re talking next week about a body count, and what we didn’t pick up and why it didn’t work,” he said.

Despite the success this week of the Tampa Police Department, Elia warned parents, teachers and students to remain vigilant going into the new school year.

“We encourage our students through the student crime watch as well as our tip hotline, if you see anything or hear about anything, let us know," she said.

After the news conference, Elia reflected on the events of the past week.

“I was so thankful that this whole situation was acted on quickly. … I don’t how other places work, but I know in Hillsborough – with all of our law enforcement partners – that is the approach they take, particularly when it involves schools,” she said.

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