Broward County

Douglas students to carry only clear backpacks, and metal detectors may soon arrive, district says

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held an open house on Sunday, Feb. 25, and parents and students returned to the Parkland school for the first time after 17 students and faculty members were killed there in a shooting at the school on Feb. 14. On Wednesday, March, 21, 2018, the district announced a new safety plan requiring students to carry only clear backpacks, among other measures.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held an open house on Sunday, Feb. 25, and parents and students returned to the Parkland school for the first time after 17 students and faculty members were killed there in a shooting at the school on Feb. 14. On Wednesday, March, 21, 2018, the district announced a new safety plan requiring students to carry only clear backpacks, among other measures. Miami Herald file photo

When Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students return from spring break the first week of April, they will only be allowed to use a clear backpack that will be provided to them.

Students will also be required to wear identification badges at all times and could soon see metal detectors installed in the Parkland school, the site of a mass shooting last month that killed 17 students and educators.

The Broward school district’s announcement Wednesday of heightened safety measures comes the same week Zachary Cruz, the brother of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, was arrested for trespassing on campus and two students were arrested for carrying knives to school.

“Over the past several weeks, we have received many inquiries regarding our District’s efforts to fortify the Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus and expand safety protocols at the school,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said in a letter sent to Douglas families. “We want to assure you that the safety and security of our students and employees remain our highest priorities.’’

The two-page letter begins with Douglas-specific changes. Florida Senate Bill 7026 allocated $400 million for schools statewide to bolster their mental health and school safety programs. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this month, also establishes a program to let some school personnel carry concealed weapons on campus.

The bill was signed in response to the Valentine’s Day rampage that left 14 students and three faculty members dead. Nikolas Cruz entered the school’s freshman classroom building and opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against the 19-year-old.

In addition to the backpacks — which Runcie says in the letter will be given to the students at no cost on April 2, the day they return from spring break — and the identification badges, “the district is exploring options for consolidating points of entry for students and staff to include utilizing metal-detecting wands and potentially installing permanent metal detectors.”

Unedited version of 911 calls made to the Emergency System during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass high school on February 14. The calls were released by Coral Spring Police Department on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

“These measures further enhance the Single Point of Entry currently in place for campus visitors,” Runcie said in the letter.

On Tuesday, Scott offered to send eight troopers to the school for added security. The district accepted.

At least one Douglas student, 17-year-old Vincent Valdez, said he’d rather see the district eliminate backpacks altogether and invest in tablets for the students.

“I don’t think I will feel any safer because we have clear backpacks or metal detectors,” said Vincent, who said he was shocked to learn about the knife incidents. “You can make up as many rules as possible, but what we need more of is enforcement.”

Runcie then goes into district-wide measures that will not only be implemented at Douglas but at all elementary, middle and high schools in the county, according to a second letter.

Those include:

Reinforcing existing safety protocols including locked classroom doors, displayed ID badges and planned emergency preparedness drills.

Evaluating current code red training protocols.

Expediting the completion of ‘Single Point Entry’ measures for campus visitors to limit access to one entry.

Adding — with help of the state funding — school resource officers so that there will be a minimum of one SRO in each school beginning next school year.

Upgrading school surveillance systems.

Increasing mental health services in schools.

Runcie added the district will continue to provide counselors for students at every school.

“While we can’t change the heartbreaking and senseless act of violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, by working together, we can change the future,” Runcie wrote. “All students deserve safe schools. We are proud of our students’ determination to effect positive change in this country — and for the incredible support from the Broward community and across the country.”

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