ACPS maintains safety goals

Students climb out of a school bus behind chain link fences at Buchholz High School.
Photo by Glory Reitz

When administrators at Kanapaha Middle School and Buchholz High School received bomb threats early Monday morning, Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) was thrown back into a situation it had not seen since the spring semester of 2022, but the schools were prepared with protocols. 

Both schools were placed on lockdown while law enforcement swept the buildings, although many students had not yet arrived on campus. Later that day, after both schools canceled their Monday classes, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 13-year-old girl after she confessed to sending both bomb threat emails. 

While the district continues to make standard improvements to its security, Douglas Pelton, chief of district security, said there was no need for a procedural change after the bomb threats because ACPS has emergency response procedures for any situation. 

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Students cross behind a fence to enter Buchholz High School.
Photo by Glory Reitz Students cross behind a fence to enter Buchholz High School.

Pelton said the district works in “prevention through early intervention,” continuously assessing threats to students, both from outside actors and mental health within the schools. 

“Doing nothing is never an option,” Pelton said in a phone interview. 

ACPS partners with the I Love U Guys Foundation to train employees and students in case of an active threat on campus, according to the ACPS website. As required by a 2018 state law, all public schools also have a full-time school resource officer or deputy. 

Douglas Pelton
Courtesy Alachua County Public Schools Douglas Pelton

A new rule which takes effect on Sept. 26 requires all Florida school districts to have a threat management coordinator to manage their threat management programs. The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) approved the administrative position on Aug. 1. 

The new supervisor, hired less than a month after the board approved the position, is to coordinate, implement and manage a threat management program for ACPS, including existing threat management teams at each district school and the district-level threat management team, which reports to the state-level team. 

Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools (OSS) adopted the Florida Harm Prevention and Threat Management Model, also called the Florida Model, in June, as required by House Bill 543, signed into law in April. OSS strongly encouraged schools to fill the threat management position by July 1 so the employee could go through state training in July and have the state-required district threat management team by August. 

Pelton said the position will help support ACPS’s top goal of student safety. Superintendent Shane Andrew has stated at multiple board meetings and in an interview that safety is the district’s top priority, directly above achievement. 

An away football game against Columbia High School (CHS) in late August turned into a home game for Buchholz High School when two armed teenagers jumped the fence, resulting in a postponement and relocation after the first quarter. The following Monday, CHS installed metal detectors at every entrance. 

ACPS took a more targeted approach, implementing a clear bag policy and raising the amount of law enforcement present at football games. A press release from the district said the clear bag policy would soon extend to other events. 

An Alachua County Sheriff's Office car sits outside Buchholz High School at the start of the day.
Photo by Glory Reitz An Alachua County Sheriff’s Office car sits outside Buchholz High School at the start of the day.

Pelton, who came on as chief of security last October, said the district has always had high security and policies for football games, but during the era of COVID-19, the policies became more relaxed. Now that events are back to full capacity, Pelton said it is time to get back to the best practices of security. 

When the school board approved Pelton for the position, he told board members he believed early intervention and preparedness were pillars of keeping facilities secure. 

Under Pelton’s leadership, the district has continued to make security improvements at individual schools, one piece at a time. For example, Newberry High School started the 2023-24 school year with new fences, access control locks and other security features. 

The NHS improvements were used the last of ACPS’s state funding from the School Hardening Grant, but Pelton said his goal is to have the same high level of security at all schools across the district. 

“We don’t want people to be in a state of fear,” Pelton said. “We want them to be in a state of preparedness.” 

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