Palm Beach County charter schools take varied approaches

Article published on December 22, 2012 by the Palm Beach Post. BOYNTON BEACH —
At the Imagine School’s Chancellor campus here last week, Principal Susan Onori decided that it was time to practice and plan for the worst. “I’m changing a lot of things at my school,” Onori said at the small, charter elementary. She ran a “code red” emergency drill with students and Boynton Beach police officers Tuesday in response to the shooting that killed 26 students and school employees in Newtown, Conn. While the Palm Beach County School District police department touted its increased security at district-run schools last week, officials running the district’s 40 charter schools — which are responsible for providing their own security — said they’re also reviewing how they keep their students safe. Ann Levene-Eisenberg, executive director of the Palm Beach School for Autism charter in suburban Lantana, said the Newtown shooting led her to add an intercom system to the lock and buzzer to get into the main office at her new campus. That way, she said, the front office receptionist can talk to whoever wants to enter the campus, and can hit a panic button to alert police in an emergency. Charter schools receive taxpayer money, but School District Police Chief Lawrence Leon said his officers do not patrol at most of the schools because many are not on district-owned property. Inlet Grove and South Tech high schools are the only charters that pay the school district to provide police officers. At Quantum High School in Boynton Beach, Principal Joy Hicks said her school pays to have its own security guards and uses metal detectors — a feature not seen at any district-run schools. Principals at several other charters, such Stephen Sill at the JFK Medical Center Charter School in suburban Lake Worth, said they rely on local police or the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in an emergency. School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw, a former principal at JFK Medical Center Charter, said the school district has little authority over charters’ security decisions. The district cannot require specific features such as electronic locks, though charter schools are required to have crisis plans and periodic emergency drills. Article published on December 22, 2012 by the Palm Beach Post The heightened awareness about student security in the aftermath the Connecticut shooting led to a lock-down last Wednesday at one charter school, Bright Futures Academy in North Palm Beach. Principal Kendall Artusi said parents reported a suspicious-looking man with a bandanna over his face standing across from the school. Police determined the man was harmless. JFK Charter’s Sill said his school has most of the security measures found at the county’s district-run schools such as fence gates that are closed when school is in session and electronic locks that require all visitors to be buzzed into the main office. But his was built to be a school while many charters are in buildings that were not. Those schools’ principals say, however, that their students are no less secure. At the Montessori Academy of Early Enrichment in Greenacres, which used to be a La-Z-Boy Furniture showroom, Principal Jean Ranck said the charter company paid for security upgrades including cameras and buzz-in access to the main lobby. And at the Imagine School in Boynton, Onori said the Connecticut tragedy has prompted her to upgrade all the exterior doors to add electronic locks and to lock all the fence gates during school hours. She said her school is also instituting a “buddy system” wherein students will no longer walk anywhere on campus alone.