WASHINGTON COUNTY – It has been nearly six months since Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing 14 students and three staff members.

The Valentine's Day shooting rampage left campuses across the state and nation smoldering with fear and quandary about how safe schools are. With a two-day training, Washington County School District faculty and staff are more prepared then ever to have a safe school year.

During a two-day training, held Aug. 6 and 8, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Chipley Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Florida Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Division, trained WCSD employees on how to respond during an active shooter situation.

According to a WCSO news release, law enforcement approach hinged on real-life simulations, including gunshots and screams. And during the final scenario, school staff had to determine the safest escape routes.

"As disheartening as the need for the training is, it is a priority," Crews stated in the release. "We have to overcome things we don’t want to do in this business and planning for an attack on our children in our schools is one we should not have to face. Being involved in a training where we learn the response tactics together so that we can face an attacker head on is critical. And that is what this training was about."

In response to the Parkland shooting, Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators rolled out a $400 million package designated for school safety. The package included a mental health piece - a topic that continues to take shape as recently released confession tapes by shooter Nikolas Cruz reportedly show signs of mental illness. 

In the $430,000 Washington County School District received, $172,599 was designated to the mental health component. The School Board used the money to hire a School Safety Administrator and two licensed professional counselors.

The School Board hired Kimberly Register to take on the new state-mandated position of School Safety Administrator. The position offers up a broad job description - mainly stating the specialist should oversee all facets of safety district-wide and coordinate with county and state departments to make schools safer. 

Also, the school district, in partnership with the county and sheriff's office, has placed armed School Resource Officers at all school campuses, with the exception of WISE and Florida Panhandle Technical College. The SROs are trained in mental health crisis response, according to WCSO.

At a roundtable discussion between the School Board and WCSD faculty and administration held earlier this year, Superintendent Joseph Taylor, School Board member Milton Brown and Sheriff Crews reminded everyone that familiarizing and equipping students with safety tools is one of the most effective ways to create safer schools in the future.

"We can't do it just by fencing and cameras, but it's the interaction of those officers with those individual students and those students feeling comfortable enough to go to those officers and say 'Hey, I have a concern about this student,'" Brown said at the roundtable. "And doing it before the problem occurs is going to make the difference."

The Aug. 6 and 8 active shooter training was one of several that will take place throughout the school year, according to the WCSO news release.

"The color of our uniform does not matter when we are facing a crisis involving our children," Crews stated in the release. "We will all respond, for the sake of our children, and this is the reason multiple local and state law enforcement agencies trained together during the active shooter scenarios."
"The positive and proactive mindset of the school staff and teachers has played a huge role in the success of this training," he stated.

For more information about Washington County School District go to wcsdschools.com.