Schools in the East Baton Rouge area stepped up their vigilance on Thursday and, in some cases, additional sheriff's deputies were on hand, one day after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 dead and at least 14 wounded.
Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said deputies “will be elevating our presence and our response plan for the next several days out of an abundance of precaution.”
“There are no indications whatsoever of anything expected but we want to reassure our citizens that we are there for them and that we will be there for them,” Wiley said in a Facebook post.
"We have, sadly, tragically, had to react to school shootings periodically," Wiley said Thursday. "We have created, years ago, a response plan."
Wiley said that trained deputies from other divisions would be re-deployed to all the schools in the district, for a period of time, "to be in and around the campus."
"The sole purpose is to offer a presence at the schools and a statement to all that we're responding to the situation (in Florida) and are in a much more capable way of responding," Wiley said.
He added that there are a large number of deputies on any given day under regular circumstances at the schools.
Ascension school officials tweeted Thursday about the increased law enforcement presence: "We appreciate their efforts of a visible reminder to our community that our schools are safe."
Jackie Tisdell, public information officer for the Ascension Parish school district, said the action to increase the number of officers at local schools by the Sheriff's Office and the Gonzales Police Department, as well, brings "an increased presence at all the schools to reassure the community and to show them we do have a close relationship with law enforcement to keep our schools safe."
With 2009 and 2016 bond issues, the Ascension Parish school district is installing a more than $3 million, parish-wide, school security system that includes security cameras, controlled entries, a two-way radio system and safety locks on all classroom doors.
Other area schools were assessing safety measures after the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.
Taylor Gast, public information officer for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said that while the school system has crisis-response measures in place that are continuously being updated, school staff were maintaining a "heightened awareness" after Wednesday's tragedy in Florida.
"We have security measures in place," Gast said. "When things like this happen, we try to learn from it."
At least one school in Baton Rouge, Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet, sent parents a message by phone app on Thursday, saying that the school had practiced a lock drill "in light of the recent events in Florida."
"We do have drills throughout the school year and they will continue," the message said.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Thursday that all of the officers regularly assigned to the schools are keeping a “heightened awareness.”
Also, Gautreaux said, “We told all of our patrol officers to make extra patrols around the schools.”
Delia Taylor, Livingston Parish School District spokeswoman, said Thursday that the school system was being "even more vigilant."
"The school system and each school have their crisis plan," she said. "Certainly we're already taking precautions all the time."
Lori Steele, public information officer with the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, said that the office had increased patrols at schools Thursday "following news of the devastation in Florida."
Sheriff's Office "resource officers" are assigned normally to schools in Livingston, as well as in many of the other area school districts.
The school superintendent in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes sent out memos to their principals and campus administrators reinforcings their safety measures and need to remain vigilant in the wake of the school shooting in Florida.
Other than that, things were mostly business as usual.
Neither reported a drop in attendance Thursday but said they were well aware of parents' concerns after Wednesday's tragedy.
Wesley Watts, superintendent for West Baton Rouge Parish Schools, said he feels the district's current safety measures are adequate but didn't rule out revisiting the procedures to make sure the district is doing everything possible to prevent a similar incident taking place on one of his campuses.
Last year, the Iberville Parish School Board decided to spend approximately $1.5 million on various safety measures included in a comprehensive safety plan from Superintendent Arthur Joffrion.
Joffrion's plan included installing surveillance equipment throughout the district and hiring school resources officers for every campus. The district already has metal detectors at all of its campuses and teachers, faculty, staff and students are required to carry digital identification cards to gain access through various parts of their respective campuses.
"Every single door is locked (and) there's only one entrance point onto campus — through the front office," he said.
Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely said Thursday that training for such events have changed for law enforcement officers ever since the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder T…
"What we had before, when we trained, was to assess the situation, watch from outside the building, wait for backup and then go in," McKneely said.
Now, he said, once the second officer arrives at the scene, "They immediately go in and look for the shooter."
"We train for that," he said.
The alleged Florida school shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was booked into jail early Thursday on 17 counts of premeditated murder.