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STUDENT SAFETY: How security will ramp up at a LaBelle school after a lockdown

After an investigation involving a 10-year-old buying a gun from another boy, Hendry County schools plan significant safety upgrades
Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 01, 2024

LABELLE, Fla. — On March 27, Fox 4 reported on a school lockdown at Country Oaks Elementary in LaBelle, prompting concerns from parents. They say it left them wondering how safe the school is, because as parents later learned, the lockdown involved ammunition. Deputies then said a 10-year-old bought a gun from another child a month prior.

So, your LaBelle Community Correspondent Austin Schargorodski went to LaBelle High School to see what the Assistant Director of Safety and Security has planned to make Country Oaks Elementary safer.

Clay emphasized the effectiveness of metal detectors as a weapon deterrent, suggesting their use could have prevented what happened at Country Oaks.

“That's letting them know that that person has some type of weapon on them," Clay said, talking over the beeping detector going off as he walked through it with his holstered gun.

However, the introduction of metal detectors is not without its challenges. Clay said he plans to use them at Country Oaks and other campuses, but it’s going to change the school day significantly.

“If I put these up right now at Country Oaks and have every student walk through them, we would probably extend the parent pick-up and drop-off time by over an hour,” Clay explained.

Beyond metal detectors, Clay shared insights into other upgrades planned for Country Oaks, including the camera system.

"These are smart cameras, so they also have the ability to track individuals and different things if we're looking for something," Clay shared. "We've done our best here by installing the upgraded camera systems, the strategic alert systems - things that allow us to respond to threats rapidly."

But, not all the upgrades are so high-tech.

“We're going to add a fence along the sidewalk there to make more of a barrier from being able to walk right up to the front door of Country Oaks," Clay stated.

Clay emphasized upgrades like this would have already been installed if he had the money in the security budget for them.

“The camera system you’ve just seen earlier today on the campus - on one of my campuses, to install that system will be $800,000. You know, these are huge lifts.”

So, where will the money come from? Hendry County School board member, Stephanie Busin, said voters approved a tax increase in 2022.

“It was approved to provide a half-cents additional sales tax to fortify and provide extra money for capital outlay projects including school safety and security,” said Busin.

However, it’s going to take several years to generate the money needed for all these upgrades. But, after what happened last week, Busin says the need just got more urgent to get them at the elementary school level.

“I think this experience was an eye opener for Hendry County and the state of Florida to see a potential situation that could have unfolded, like at Country Oaks, with that age group of children,” Busin stated.