By Chief Frank J. Kitzerow
“We are all school safety.” This is something I’ve said quite a bit in my first month as Chief of Police for the School District Police Department, and it’s something that I truly believe. We all play a role in the safety and security of our students and our schools.
Safety has always been a priority for everyone at the School District of Palm Beach County. We take very seriously the responsibility that rests with us when our students – your children – are in our schools. But for parents, what happens on campus should be only part of the conversation when it comes to school safety.
Practicing bus stop safety, teaching children how to stay safe while walking to school, or sharing what it means to “see something, say something” are important discussions that parents should have with their children before the school year begins. These discussions should become as routine as buying school supplies and clothes.
Here are some simple tips and reminders that every parent can share with their children now to keep them safe – on the first day, and every day, of the school year.
WATCH FOR WALKERS, AND WATCH WHERE YOU WALK
Walking to the bus stop or to school may seem typical, but it is a time when children are at greater risk for accidents. According to the non-profit organization Safe Kids Worldwide, “unintentional pedestrian injuries are the fifth leading cause of injury-related death in the United States for children ages 5 to 19.”
Teenagers account for half of all child pedestrian deaths, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Reminding your children to stay on the sidewalk, use crosswalks, look both ways and put down electronic devices before crossing streets are essential tips to share and practice with your children before the first day of school.
If you live close to railroad tracks, remind your children to never cross tracks when a train is coming, never walk or bike next to tracks, and cross tracks only where there is a designated crosswalk.
For drivers, the first day of school also marks the first day for school zones. If you’re caught speeding in a school zone, expect stiffer penalties and higher fines – a civil penalty for going 1 to 9 mph over the speed limit is $156, compared with $131 for going between 6 and 9 mph over the speed limit on any other road in Palm Beach County.
PRACTICE BUS SAFETY, ON THE ROAD AND AT THE BUS STOP
School buses are one of the safest ways for students to get to school. Students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they travel by school bus versus traveling to school by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Getting to and from the bus stop, and getting on and off the bus, is where students need a little extra guidance. Parents should practice walking to the bus stop with their children, watch traffic patterns in the area of the bus stop, and help their children identify a safe place to wait for the bus each day.
Students must remember to never walk behind a bus. Drivers must remember to never try to pass a bus that is stopped with its STOP arms extended and red lights flashing. Drivers attempting to pass a stopped school bus could be committing a costly mistake. Failure to stop for a school bus is a $271 penalty.
SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING
One aspect of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act is the tougher punishment for anyone who makes a threat on social media. Unfortunately, these threats are all too common in Palm Beach County and in school districts across the nation.
Under the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, it is now a second-degree felony to post shooting or terrorism threats on social media platforms – even if the threat is posted as a joke.
It is critical that parents discuss with their children the importance of reporting these threats when they see them, rather than sharing and spreading the threats on social media – what we mean when we say “see something, say something.”
The StudentProtect app, available on Google Play and in the App Store, gives students, teachers, school staff and community members a way to report these threats to law enforcement.
Keeping our students safe is a community effort. Visit www.palmbeachschools.org/school-safety to learn more about how School District Police and the School District are committed to protecting our students.