TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A bill modifying the Florida school Safety Awareness Program is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign or veto. The bill cleared both chambers of the state legislature unanimously. If passed, the legislation would make changes to current state statutes passed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland.
According to the bill’s text, House Bill 1421 would require that if someone purposely sends in a false tip to law enforcement about a potential school threat, the user who submits the tip may be subject to criminal penalties. The legislation allows law enforcement agents to learn the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the device used to submit the tip.
HB 1421 also directs the FDOE to create statewide rules for emergency drills, rather than leaving the planning with individual school districts. If DeSantis signs the bill into law, a few changes will also be made to how drills at schools for active shooter incident training are conducted.
“Law enforcement officers responsible for responding to the school in the event of an active assailant emergency, as determined necessary by the sheriff in coordination with the district’s school safety specialist, must be physically present on campus and directly involved in the execution of active assailant emergency drills,” the bill text reads. “School districts must notify law enforcement officers at least 24 hours before conducting an active assailant emergency drill at which such law enforcement officers are expected to attend.”
FDOE will also be required to adopt rules for emergency drills, active threats, and after-action reports by Aug. 1, 2023, which would require emergency drills of all types to be conducted at least once per year at all school levels and types.
Additionally, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission will, through authority provided by the legislation, monitor the implementation of school safety legislation. To do so, HB 1421 allows the commission to:
- Evaluate the activities of the Office of Safe Schools to provide guidance to school districts, identify areas of noncompliance and mechanisms used to achieve compliance.
- Review the findings of the Auditor General regarding school district school safety policies and procedures that need improvement to ensure and demonstrate compliance with state law.
- Review school hardening grant expenditures and evaluating such expenditures based on the report of the School Hardening and Harm Mitigation Workgroup, recommendations of law enforcement agencies pursuant to s. 1006.07(8), and the return on investment analysis required by s. 1006.1493.
- Evaluate the utilization of the centralized integrated data repository by schools and its effectiveness in conducting threat assessments.
- Assessing efforts by local governments to improve communication and coordination among regional emergency communications systems.
- Investigate any failures in incident responses by local law enforcement agencies and school resource officers.
The legislation also allows the Commissioner of Education to have oversight of school safety and security enforcement requirements. In addition to the new evaluation authority for the commission, HB 1421 includes a provision that the commission itself will sunset on July 1, 2026, and that upon doing so, yearly reports the commission provides to Florida’s Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House will no longer be required.
The Florida School Safety Portal would also be created. The legislation proposes the creation of the FSS Portal to use as a “unified search tool,” for both the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and state school districts.
The FSS Portal would provide access to “timely, complete, and accurate information, at a minimum,” with information coming from a combination of social media posts, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Juvenile Justice, data from the FortifyFL “mobile suspicious activity reporting tool,” school environmental safety incident reports, and information from local law enforcement.
The FortifyFL program was created and funded in 2018 when Florida’s state legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. According to the FortifyFL website, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School named the application. It was developed by the Office of Attorney General, FDOE, and FDLE.
According to the Florida Legislature’s analysis of HB 1421, “As of January 2022, 17,224 tips have been submitted through FortifyFL.” As written, the portal would consolidate the aforementioned information sources into a single-access tool for FDLE and schools.
Current state statutes have the commission set to expire on July 1, 2023. The change that would be enacted, should the bill be signed into law by the governor, would extend the commission’s time by three years.
The bill also adds charter school personnel to the list of staff able to receive “ongoing professional development opportunities” provided to public school personnel at Florida’s school districts.
Another provision of HB 1421 requires FDLE to develop a family reunification plan along with the Florida Division of Emergency Management and other federal, state, and local agencies, including fire and rescue and first responders, to use at child care facilities, public K-12 schools and public postsecondary institutions like state colleges and universities, that are “unexpectedly evacuated” or closed due to a “natural or manmade disaster.”
The reunification model plans “shall consider the integration of student information and notification systems” to help facilitate reunification following an emergency incident, and the plan must be reviewed annual and updated, as needed.
The state will also be required, if HB 1421 is enacted, to maintain a directory of public school-based diversion programs, and work with judicial circuits and the DJJ to facilitate “efforts to monitor and enforce each governing body’s compliance” with state statute 985.12.
The statute requires that if someone is arrested, law enforcement officers must give written documentation about why an arrest was warranted and provide copies to state attorneys and public defenders for cases that involve citations or “similar prearrest diversion programs” with juvenile defendants.