Elementary school students in neighboring Hillsborough County will return to class Monday under the watchful eyes of law enforcement officers, but that won't be the case when Pasco students hit the books Jan. 8.
Sheriff's deputies were assigned to each Pasco elementary school the week following the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., massacre. In that case, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into an elementary school and shot 20 children, ages 6 and 7, to death and six staff members before killing himself. The tragedy rocked the nation and sparked local law enforcement reaction throughout the Tampa Bay area.
The move was a temporary response in Pasco.
The police presence will not continue, Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said at the school board's Dec. 18 meeting.
"We believe things will come back to a state of normalcy," he said.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office said it does not have the resources to maintain deputies at all of the county's 47 elementary schools.
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"Road patrol deputies have been told to patrol the zones around those schools as their time permits," sheriff's office spokesman Kevin Doll said.
Pasco has never had resource officers in all of the district's elementary schools, Doll said, but there used to be six that rotated between them, "until the school board cut that funding years ago."
Further cuts to funding in recent years have tightened things up even more, Doll said.
"The school board used to fund 50 percent of the salaries of the SROs that we currently have in middle schools and high schools, but in recent years they have cut that also, so now the sheriff's office funds the majority of our SROs from our budget."
Despite the costs and the challenges, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which covers 91 elementary schools in unincorporated Hillsborough County alone, is expanding its resource officer program to elementary schools because the agency and the school district believe the move is justified.
“School safety is the utmost priority,” Lt. Chad Chronister of the Hillsborough sheriff’s office’s community outreach division said.
“We have a great sheriff,” he said. “He doesn’t care what it costs … just get it done. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”
Messages left for Pasco School District officials were not immediately returned, however a post on the school board's website dated Dec. 19 aimed to reassure parents that precautions would be taken when children return to school.
In light of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, please be assured that the School Board and Superintendent’s Staff are continuing to meet to assess school safety procedures. These meetings will be ongoing and comprehensive. All safety practices will be reviewed and adjustments made to ensure that our students and staff remain safe and secure on our campuses.