Private Schools Rethink Security

A dangerous police chase that ended inside an Opa-locka elementary school full of dozens of students Thursday underscored a pressing need to re-examine security at public and private schools, education and security experts said.

A shooting suspect trying to escape police ran into the Catholic school at 13401 NW 28th Ave. Thursday, forcing officers to evacuate about 140 middle school and preschool pupils.

The suspect was captured a short time later and no one at the school was hurt. A second suspect was captured outside the school.

''There's the belief that emergency and security issues are something that belong solely to public schools,'' said Kenneth Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm. ``This is the classic example that emergency planning crosses all boundaries of all types of schools.''

Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said the 71 South Florida schools the archdiocese administers -- including Our Lady of Perpetual Help -- do not have regular security guards. But each school has a regularly updated security plan with safety committees on staff, she said.

Most schools have one main entrance door, and guests are asked to check in at the office.

''Whether or not we'll keep our doors locked at all times . . . the fire issue has to be addressed. Obviously, today was an event out of the ordinary,'' Agosta said. ``But this gives us something to look at regarding our safety plans and perhaps update them.''

Miami-Dade public schools post unarmed security monitors at main entrances, said district spokesman John Schuster. They have radios to contact the school office.

Broward County schools have security personnel monitoring the buildings, grounds and video screens. In addition, police officers serve as school resource officers at many campuses. Many schools shut down access once the school day has begun, except for a main entrance, said Broward schools spokesman Joe Donzelli.

''Some private schools feel they are immune from the same security and same violence and same emergency risks as public schools,'' Trump said.

"The biggest risk of all is denial and believing you are somehow immune. That's the biggest risk factor that private schools have to overcome.''

It's one thing to have an emergency plan on paper, he added, but it must be tested regularly to see if it works in an emergency.

''You don't need a mock hostage situation on the first day of kindergarten class. No one is suggesting that. But a lock-down drill -- like a reverse fire drill -- should be practiced,'' Trump said.

Archdiocese schools practice fire drills but not lock-down drills, Agosta said.

Christopher Columbus High School, a private Catholic school for boys in West Miami-Dade, has met with local police to come up with an emergency plan, said Brother Patrick McNamara, the school's principal. The school practiced its lock-down drill this year.

''Since 9/11 things have changed so dramatically we are always updating our emergency response plans,'' McNamara said.

Pine Crest Preparatory in Fort Lauderdale has a 24-hour security force, marked patrol units, a lock-down signal with a distinctive tone to differentiate it from a fire drill alarm, call boxes, closed-circuit televisions, and employee and student photo ID tags.

Pine Crest has a check-in station visitors must pass through, and the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has copies of the campus' floor plans.

''We're way out front,'' said Joe Markham, Pine Crest's director of transportation, safety and security.

"Over the past three years we recognized a couple things we needed to do and wanted to improve. In today's time it's a little different. It's not only the threat of outsiders roaming on campus or a student under pressure to do something. We still have that now but we're also specific targets for terrorists because of our race or that we're an American school.''

Herald staff writers Alexandra Alter, Matthew L. Pinzur and Linda Streitfeld contributed to this report.