A newly elected teacher-turned-Florida legislator is proposing school security measures that could only come from the inside.
Carl Zimmermann, State Representative for District 65, which encompasses Dunedin, thinks simple changes in Florida classrooms could help save lives during a threatening situation like the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
Zimmermann is calling for placing locks on the inside of classroom doors and reinforcing them with bullet-proof windows.
"In many schools, teachers have to leave the classroom to lock the door, because the doors only lock from the outside," he said.
"The recent shootings made everyone aware of this," he said.
Zimmermann, a broadcast journalism teacher at Countryside High School, said this would be especially helpful at schools that do not have a main entrance. He said the doors to the classrooms are located on the outside of their respective buildings, instead of inside a main hall in the building.
"You have to have safe places for everybody. It's not safe if you can't lock the door," he said.
Pinellas County Schools has two types of classroom door locks, said Michael Bessette, associate superintendent of operational services.
Double-cylinder locks are installed at the newer schools. They can be locked from the inside and outside. Many of the older schools have what Bessette calls "old model handles" that lock from the outside.
"We've been in the process of changing them over during the last three years," he said.
The school district has added security features over the years, but money limits how much they can do. "We don't have millions of dollars," said Bessette.
Zimmermann is also proposing doors be enforced with bullet-proof windows.
The freshman lawmaker submitted his draft of the bill Tuesday evening, along with the draft of an education bill.
"Since I work in the schools, I know the problems that need to be addressed," he said.
Zimmermann Also Addresses Teacher Evaluations
The second bill Zimmermann's proposing is actually a rewrite of an existing law about teacher evaluations.
He wants to simplify the teacher evaluation process by creating a system in which students would be tested before taking a course and again when they finish the course, to see how much they learned. He says these tests would provide an accurate reflection of student progress and a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.
This is one of the three top problems that Zimmermann mentioned to Patch during his campaign for office.
Zimmermann, a Democrat, said he plans to take leaves of absence from his job as teacher, as needed, while serving in the legislature. He's hired veteran legislative staffers Doris Burns and Betsy Collins to work with him. Burns and Collins happen to be Republicans.
"I really plan to be the most non-partisan legislator in Tallahassee," he said.
Zimmermann, a Palm Harbor resident, is opening his office in Dunedin later this month.