The St. Tammany Parish School Board will vote next week on security recommendations that would require students at all parish schools to wear uniforms and would add a resource officer and a mental health provider to each of its campuses, moves that will cost an estimated $4 million a year.
The board met Thursday as a committee of the whole and voted to recommend passage of all three changes, a strong indication that it will approve the measures when it meets formally next week. But the vote on changing the uniform policy was not unanimous, with three members voting against it.
The measures were recommended by the School Safety and Security Committee, which considered school security improvements in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 students and faculty members in February.
Most schools in the district already require uniforms, Associate Superintendent Peter Jabbia said. But five high schools and one junior high do not. Those that would be affected by the change are Covington High, Fontainebleau High, Lakeshore High, Mandeville High, Pearl River High and Lee Road Junior High.
Board member Neal Hennegan said parents in those schools voted against requiring uniforms and should again be asked whether they support a mandatory uniform proposal rather than having the policy imposed on them.
Board members Charles Harrell and Mary K. Bellisario agreed, but they were outvoted 10-3.
The other measure considered was whether to provide full-time resource officers and mental health providers at every school.
While noting the proposal would cost an additional $4 million a year, Jabbia said the school system wanted “to move on this as soon as possible."
He recommended drawing on FEMA money and the school system's share of the BP oil spill settlement for interim financing until a bond issue for permanent funding can be put on a future ballot.
The Safety and Security Committee that made the recommendations included School Board members and administrators, principals, teachers and parents. The members studied current security measures at St. Tammany schools and considered additional steps.
Besides uniforms and additional personnel, the committee also suggested installing perimeter fencing and more secure “magnetic” entryways at schools. The School Board is expected to discuss those proposals at a later date.
Jabbia said all stakeholders surveyed by the committee, including principals and law enforcement officials, recommended uniforms as a way to quickly identify anyone of school age who doesn’t belong on a school campus.
At last month's School Board meeting, Superintendent Trey Folse said he also is considering a change in the system's cell phone policy in light of multiple school shootings, and will propose a revised policy before the next school year.
The change likely would loosen the current policy that prohibits students from having cell phones in schools. While Folse said he has been considering the change for some time, the Parkland shooting may have increased his resolve.
His comments came after St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith unveiled the App Task Force — a cell phone app that would let residents report crimes in progress to law enforcement with the push of a few buttons. Smith and app developer Sidney Torres IV both said it could be a valuable tool for students in a school-shooter situation.