A Florida commission investigating the February shooting deaths of 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school said in a starkly worded report that security at public schools must be improved and recommended arming teachers and spending more on mental health programs.
It slammed Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, saying he was partly to blame because he had changed active shooter policy to say that deputies “may” enter a building to engage a shooter, indicating it wasn’t necessary. Israel has changed the policy again. The report also noted that some sheriff’s deputies said they could not remember the last time they underwent training for an active shooter.
And the report was critical of the school security program operated by Broward County Public Schools. The report said it failed to stop the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, a former student with a history of disciplinary problems and mental health concerns, from entering the school Feb. 14 with a semiautomatic rifle and killing 14 students and three staff members. Neither the school nor the district had a clear plan to lock down classrooms. It took several minutes for that to happen, leaving students, teachers and staff members “vulnerable to being shot,” it said.
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The report starts with this warning:
School safety in Florida needs to be improved. We can do more and we can do a better job of ensuring the safety of students and staff on K-12 school campuses. Not all school security changes or enhancements have financial costs, and some only require the will of decision-makers to effect change and hold people responsible for implementing best practices. Safety and security accountability is lacking in schools, and that accountability is paramount for effective change if we expect a different result in the future than what occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) on February 14, 2018.
The 15-member commission included sheriffs from several Florida counties, including Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who served as chairman. The fathers of three students killed during the rampage were also appointed. The report will be sent to the Florida legislature and governor. The panel interviewed hundreds of witnesses and reviewed “a massive amount of evidence,” it said.
Perhaps the most controversial recommendation among dozens made by the commission called for training and giving weapons to teachers willing to carry arms. It is not clear how that will be received by administrators, teachers, students and parents. Some of the student survivors of the shooting have become leaders in a national youth gun-control movement, and the Broward County School Board voted in April not to accept state money appropriated for that purpose.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel quoted Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed in the shooting:
"Teachers went to school to teach. That is their expertise. Law enforcement, their expertise is supposed to be to engage a threat. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen on 2/14, but I still think we should leave it in the hands of law enforcement.”
The commission made recommendations it said schools should adopt immediately, including keeping school gates and doors locked when not in use, and making sure school personnel are present when gates and doors are being used. All doors should be locked, too, and teachers should be able to lock them from the inside, with access to the keys.
It also said every school should have a Code Red plan for emergencies and should train staff to execute that plan and communicate it to everyone at the school.
And the panel said school safety requires attention to the mental health of students and acknowledged:
Florida’s mental and behavioral health system is underfunded. Florida needs a better case management system, but no case management system can be effective unless there are effective services through which a person can be managed.
The panel urged that more money be provided for mental health services after a review of what exists and what works well. It also offered recommendations for making it easier for relevant agencies to quickly communicate about the mental health of a suspected attacker.