Broward County

They demanded change, but Parkland students say these school safety rules go too far

Students wear clear backpacks outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Monday, April 2, 2018. The bags are one of a number of security measures the school district has enacted as a result of the Feb. 14 shooting at the school that killed 17.
Students wear clear backpacks outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Monday, April 2, 2018. The bags are one of a number of security measures the school district has enacted as a result of the Feb. 14 shooting at the school that killed 17. Sun Sentinel/TNS

Student activist Cameron Kasky went to school on Tuesday with a see-through backpack filled with tampons, an act of protest against the school’s new clear-bag policy.

For him and dozens of his classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the new rule requiring students to carry their belongings in clear backpacks is a violation of privacy, period.

And since the rule went into effect on Monday — almost two months after a former student sneaked an AR-15 onto campus in a rifle bag and used it to kill 17 people — students have complained that the policy is unnecessary and intrusive.

“Unless they’re bullet-proof, I don’t feel much safer,” Kasky, who created the activist group Never Again and helped organize the student rally March for Our Lives, wrote on Twitter.

In their first couple of days back from spring break, some students have turned their school-issued bags into improvised picket signs. Others have turned them into jokes.

Delaney Tarr, a student activist at the school, spent much of her Monday evening — and some of her early Tuesday morning — decorating her school-issued bag with pins and paint, and also tampons.

“We need real change,” she painted on the front of the bag. On the back, a pin reads, “Enough is enough.”

The student leaders of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have been demanding change — namely, tighter gun laws — since their classmates and mentors were slaughtered at school on Feb. 14. But newly enacted school safety policies aimed at preventing any more school shootings, they argue, go too far without going far enough.

They’re too restrictive, yet somehow not effective enough, they say. Emma Gonzalez, a prominent member of the Never Again movement, seemed to question the motivation behind security changes at the school in a series of tweets on Tuesday afternoon.

“The people with the power to make changes keep making the wrong changes,” she said. “No matter how much we tell them to listen to us there will always be a backpack manufacturer saying, “Hey they need clear backpacks, we got you covered, or a Barricade Renter saying, “Hey do you need any extra fences that will create the illusion of safety but are easily jumpable and make all the students feel like a combination of prisoners and livestock?”

“When people pay money for these modifications on our school (the only one in the county being altered btw) that means Someone Is Getting Paid and I am Sick and Tired of us being treated like prize pigs,” Gonzalez added.

But despite the outcry on social media, teachers “for the most part” have embraced the policy, said Greg Pittman, an American History teacher at the school of about 3,300.

“The teachers have the students’ interests at hand,” Pittman said. “We see danger now and do not want a copy cat.”

Pittman said he supports the anti-gun violence movement started by student activists at the school. He even flew to Washington, D.C, with some of his students for the March for Our Lives gun-reform protest on March 24. But following the arrest of Zachary Cruz, the brother of the Parkland gunman, in late March for trespassing at the school, and then of two students for bringing knives to school, Pittman said teachers are concerned about safety.

After organizing the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Saturday, The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are ready to tackle what's next in the gun debate. "We're students... This is our test now, and we definitely studied," A

Family members of Meadow Pollack, who was killed in the Parkland shooting, criticized students’ response to increased security at the school.

“17 people dead, few students bring knives to school, multiple students making threats, and you're making a joke complaining about clear back packs,” Hunter Pollack, the brother of Parkland victim Meadow Pollack, wrote on Twitter in response to a photo of Kasky’s tampon-stuffed bag.

“[A]nything to draw more attention to yourself,” added Meadow’s cousin Adam Pollack.

Security at the Parkland school has been bolstered following the Feb. 14 massacre, with about 10 Broward Sheriff’s deputies stationed on campus daily and, more recently, the addition of eight Florida Highway Patrol troopers scheduled to monitor gates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Students, now required to wear ID badges around their necks at all times, are being allowed inside through four monitored gates before school starts, and through just one entry point after the bell rings. The school district is “exploring options” to begin using metal-detecting wands at entrances and potentially permanent metal detectors. Sports bags and instrument cases are now checked at entry points and must be dropped off with a teacher or coach before school starts.

“The process will be very similar to when you enter a sporting event, concert, or even Disney World. As a first step, we are looking to see if we can get the kids through these entrances in a timely manner,” Principal Ty Thompson said in a March 30 memo to parents. “It is very difficult to balance both convenience/privacy with safety/security; if there is more of one, the other often suffers, but I will do my best to balance the two.”

While most of these measures are limited to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the school district has reinforced safety protocols district-wide. These include requiring all students and staff to wear ID badges and locking classroom doors “at all times,” according to a March 21 letter to parents from Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

Pittman, however, said the police presence on Monday — the first day back from spring break — was sloppy. He said when he drove onto campus around 6:30 a.m. there wasn’t any law enforcement on duty, “only crossing guards.” Security eventually arrived after Pittman called Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, and Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

“Kids don’t like any change,” he said. “Most teachers want more security.”

Tuesday was better, he said, although acts of defiance against the measures from students on campus have dominated much of the discussion on the ground and on social media.

Principal Thompson, who is revered by much of the student body, has pleaded with teachers, students and their parents for patience as school officials and the Broward schools district figure out how to keep students safe long term.

“While I know there are a lot of ideas out there, and a lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda’s, I’m working with law enforcement and local officials to put the best logical plan in place,” he wrote in a memo to parents on March 21. “Those that know me, know that I am a common sense kinda guy. There are a lot of great plans on paper, but implementation is just not feasible. And with a million things hitting me at once, I need to make sure plans make sense and are doable.”

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