The 458-page report by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission addresses the cascade of errors revealed in the wake of the shooting, including fumbled tips, lax school security policies and unaggressive Broward sheriff’s deputies who hung back as shots were fired. The report now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva. … Many of the proposals were inspired by errors and weak spots that came to light after the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people.
Commission Chairman Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri minced no words about his support for policy changes, including arming teachers, stating that the shooter was able to re-load his weapon five times, which means there were opportunities to stop him:
“So what are we saying to people — we’re not going to allow you to defend yourself, we’re not going to allow you to defend the kids — why? Because of some ideology that we don’t like guns? Anyone who thinks they’re going to get rid of guns is crazy…It isn’t going to happen. We’ve got to do something differently and people should be able to protect themselves.”
But keeping students safe at school involves more than arming teachers or raising spending: it starts with a commonsense commitment, as Gualtieri explained:
… many recommendations could have been implemented a long time ago had school safety been treated with the importance it deserved, particularly by school districts. “There’s a money issue, I grant you that…but there’s a whole bunch of things that don’t cost anything and the Legislature, if these districts won’t do it, should mandate that they implement these things and that they implement them immediately.”
These recommendations include simply closing and locking gates (p. 42), as well as having a formal Code Red/active assailant response policy that is disseminated all school staff (pp. 51 and 82). As the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report noted:
Even after the MSDHS shooting and the implementation of new Florida law requiring certain safety measures, there remains non-compliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles in Florida’s K-12 schools. … The District did not have and still does not have a formal, written and disseminated Code Red policy (pp. 1 and 51).
That law is the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a $400 million plan for securing (or “hardening”) school campuses, enhancing mental health services, and expanding the Aaron Feis Guardian Program to train and arm volunteer teachers and school staff (see pp. 315ff; Senate Bill 7026; and here). The law included several controversial features, such as arming teachers, raising the legal gun-purchasing age to 21, as well as creating a centralized government database that merges individual-level records from law enforcement and social services with personal social media pages, which raises numerous privacy concerns.
Florida’s HOPE Scholarship program offers a better option for keeping students safe at school because it empowers parents to act without having to wait for permission from school officials.
Any students who’s been subjected to a wide range of school safety incidents is eligible for a scholarship to another public or private school of their parents’ choice. Not only does the program give families safer options immediately, it also introduces powerful incentives for schools and districts to take swift, practical steps to keep all students safe year after year—or risk losing them to safer schools.
Florida could improve its HOPE Scholarship program, along with the incentives to make schools safer, by allowing parents to transfer their children if school officials fail to implement basic active-shooter prevention policies and practices.
Such commonsense steps could be taken tight now, and that is why Safety Opportunity Scholarship programs are so important.