Freshman Palm Harbor Lawmaker Drafts School Security Bill
Teacher Carl Zimmermann has drafted a bill to keep students and teachers safe during situations like a school shooting. It's one example of how he's using his experience in the classroom in his new role as legislator.
Newly elected teacher-turned-lawmaker Carl Zimmermann thinks a simple change in Florida classrooms could help save lives during a threatening situation like the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. It's an idea that could pretty much only come from a teacher's perspective.
Zimmermann, who is State Representative for District 65, wants to change the locks on classroom doors, so they lock from the inside.
"In many schools, teachers have to leave the classroom to lock the door, because the doors only lock from the outside," he told Palm Harbor Patch.
"The recent shootings made everyone aware of this," he said.
Zimmermann, who teaches broadcast journalism at Countryside High School, says this would be especially helpful at schools that do not have a main entrance. He says the doors to the classrooms are located on the outside of their respective buildings, instead of inside a main hall in the building. Zimmermann thinks that making sure these classroom doors can be locked from the inside will improve safety.
"You have to have safe places for everybody. It's not safe if you can't lock the door," he said.
Currently, there are two types of locks on classroom doors at Pinellas County Schools, according to 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 another security measure in his legislation. He thinks classroom doors should 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.
The second bill he's proposing is actually a rewrite of an existing law about teacher evaluations.
Zimmermann wants to simplify the teacher evaluation process by creating a system in which students would be tested prior to 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 Palm Harbor Patch during his campaign for office.
Zimmerman says 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," said the freshman Democrat lawmaker.
Zimmermann will open up his district office in Dunedin the third week in January. It will be located at 1106 Pinehurst Rd. in Dunedin, (727) 733-8267.
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