It's something parents would rather not think about. However, in light of today's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., it's a topic that can hardly be ignored.
While the likelihood of there being a school shooting in Hillsborough County is slim, (Hillsborough County has the eighth largest school district in the nation and has never had a school shooting), the Hillsborough County School District isn't taking any chances when it comes to the safety of students and staff, said Cpt. Bamir Ode of the Hillsborough County School Security Services Department.
"We have a crisis plan in place for each school in the district," said Ode. "I can't discuss details of the plans because it would put the plans in jeopardy. But we're prepared if anything happens."
"We have a voluminous crisis management and each school has its own plan for a number of possible scenarios," said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the school district. "They’re reviewed regularly and we have drills. If anything occurs that we haven’t seen before, we add it to the protocols."
Among the considerations in a school emergency is how to contact parents. Normally, the school's ParentLink System is used to call or email parents in a crisis situation.
"But, in the case of a school shooting, the staff at the school won't be in a position to write a script and make the phone calls," Cobbe said. "We have to balance making sure children are safe with communicating with parents. Most likely, our Office of Communications would handle notifying parents. And probably the best way to notify them is by getting information out to the media."
In the case of an emergency, such as a school shooting, the district would evacuate students as far away from the school as possible, said Cobbe. "Each school has a reunification site, and parents need to know what that is."
Maintaining safe, secure schools falls under the domain of the Security Services Department, which provides around-the-clock specially trained professional security and law enforcement personnel.
The security department deals with a wide range of school issues including threats to school personnel, trespassers, property damage, theft, vandalism and burglaries. If a school shooting occurred, the department would ensure that the individual school's crisis plan is put into action.
"We do everything possible within our means to protect our students," said Cobbe.
In addition to the security department, each middle and high school has a school resource office on the premises.
Unlike some school districts in the country, Hillsborough County isn't quite ready to place metal detectors in every school, however.
"Even if we had them at entrances, it wouldn't guarantee that an intruder won't find another way into the building," Cobbe said.
"At this point, all we can do is hope that nothing ever happens and, if it does, that everyone remembers their training and follows it."
While she said she understands the concerns of parents in light of today's shooting, Cobbe said students are, by and large, safe at school.
"We protect their children with the same veracity that they protect their children," she said. "Schools are safer than most any other place in the world.”