Our country is at a crossroads, one where we must stop and refocus on what is important. Last week twenty beautiful little angels and six dedicated educators were taken in a senseless random act of violence in Newtown, Conn. Since then our nation has struggled for answers as to how such a tragedy could happen. This tragedy has touched every American, every parent, every child in a manner that is difficult to describe.
In terms of the safety and preparedness of our schools, Miami-Dade County Public Schools is prepared for any emergency; however, a random act of violence is not predictable, particularly when perpetrated by an unstable individual. As a result, constant vigilance and preparedness are key to the security of our schools.
M-DCPS is fortunate to have its own full-service police department, one of few in the state, and a full complement of security monitors at every school. Even though every school has a site-specific emergency plan, all security protocols are being reviewed, including municipal first responder collaboration. Currently, the Schools Police Department has mutual aid agreements with all 37 local and state law enforcement agencies which service our community, ensuring that maximum resources are available in the event of any emergency.
The safety of our children is a concern and a responsibility which extends beyond just the school system. It extends beyond our courageous men and women of law enforcement; it is a shared responsibility.
That is why as superintendent of schools and Miami-Dade County mayor we are committed to coming to the table to evaluate how we, along with the county and other municipalities, can work together to create an envelope of safety around our schools. Therefore in the coming weeks we will be inviting all of the chiefs of our community’s police agencies to review current safety protocols and develop recommendations for improvements.
Similarly, we are working to bring together mental healthcare professionals and those who provide social support services to identify opportunities for early interventions for at-risk and troubled youth. These meetings will then be followed up by a convening of mayors and other elected officials so that we may collectively identify resources and assets necessary to protect our schools and provide support to our youth. It is our intent that this work will yield specific recommendations and agreements which will be announced by February.
M-DCPS will also be providing planned critical safety and security infrastructure upgrades at schools in the immediate future as a result of the funds made available by the passage of the $1.2 billion bond referendum this past November.
Examples of planned improvements include: perimeter fencing and campus access control, fire and security alarm replacement and upgrades, public address system replacement and upgrades, additional surveillance cameras, and emergency lighting system upgrades. Those who continue to advocate the dilution of capital outlay funds, particularly into non-public entities, must consider the implications on the safety conditions at our publicly owned school facilities. We can and we will continue to fortify our schools and improve our safety and security protocols because the lives of our students and staff remain a paramount priority.
Our nation has seen far too many tragedies like Newtown. Each time the horrible tragedy is met with an outpouring of emotion and a subsequent knee-jerk reaction from pundits and politicos, albeit rarely with any long term results.
The recurring failure is that the emotional reaction to the heinous act never truly addresses the root cause of the problem. This cannot be the case again. Now is the time to put aside petty differences, partisan politics, and poll results and take a good long look at our policies and legislation, care and services for those with mental or emotional challenges, and our overall culture which regularly inundates youth and adults alike with violence, a disregard for the sanctity of life, and images and video games which glorify criminal lifestyles and the degradation of women.
The responsibility for safety of our youth, the security of our schools, the very return of civility to our society does not rest at the feet of any one entity, but is instead a shared duty of us all. It must begin with an honest national conversation about our values and our priorities at the very highest levels of our government, in our houses of worship, in town squares and around our dinner tables. As Americans, as public officials, as fathers, our hearts broke on December 14 when those 20 little angels and six educators lost their lives, just as our hearts ache each and every time one of our own students loses their life as the result of a foolish decision or violent act.
Through collaborative partnerships, responsible resource allocation, the availability of mental health and counseling services, and regular emergency response training we must create a safe environment in and around our schools and our students. This is an imperative of the highest order which can no longer be ignored or postponed. There can be no higher priority than the lives of our children.
Alberto Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade County Schools. Carlos Gimenez is mayor of Miami-Dade County.