Education

How many ways can you think of to make schools safer? This Broward group has 100.

Parkland students produce documentary on how they are rebuilding their lives

Instead of talking pain and tragedy, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students share their story of hope and healing after the nation's deadliest school shooting.
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Instead of talking pain and tragedy, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students share their story of hope and healing after the nation's deadliest school shooting.

After a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killed 17 and wounded 17 more in the deadliest school shooting in Florida history, the Broward League of Cities formed a task force to assess school and community safety measures.

On Monday, it released a 93-page report with 100 suggestions. The short- and long-term solutions span increased school hardening, reformed discipline policies and access to mental health resources. Accountability measures were added to existing policies, with consequences if they are not followed.

Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan, who served as a co-chair, said the task force worked to release the initial report in time for budget season, so changes could be made before the next school year.

"In many ways this is just the beginning," he said. "But in the end the community is going to have to galvanize together to tackle these issues."

The 43-member task force included elected officials, Broward school district officials, teacher union leaders, law enforcement representatives, mental health professionals and the parents of two students who were among those murdered Feb. 14. They met 10 times since forming in March.

School hardening specifics include expediting school construction projects to include a single point of entry to a school, surveillance camera upgrades, additional fencing, metal detectors and classroom doors that lock automatically.

"In the last 19 years since Columbine our focus has been on mental health and prevention, and while those are important, the one thing that we haven't focused on is hardening," said Max Schachter, whose son Alex Schachter died when a bullet went through his classroom door. "Until we do that, kids will continue to die in classrooms."

Ryan said that the school district is in need of more psychologists, social workers and mental health counselors "that are focused on students, not on testing," as well as increased marketing for mental health resources. The report also takes a hard look at recidivism rates in the school district's Promise program, which has been criticized after it was revealed that shooter Nikolas Cruz was referred to the discipline diversion program but never completed it and was back in school after the intake process.

The report also touches on establishing a "permanent, stable, dedicated" funding resource for school resource officers. The report, however, does not mention the Broward School Board's recent move to put a property tax referendum on the August ballot to raise funds for teachers and resource officers.

"Currently it relies too heavily on local municipalities, and there is not a uniform system across the county," Ryan said.

The next step is to advocate at the state level and create a coordinated legislative agenda, said task force co-chair and Broward County Mayor Beam Furr.

"I think it's going to be a major long-term project," he said, later adding that "finding that right balance will be our challenge."

Earlier that day at a nearby park, two dozen students from Stoneman Douglas gathered in shirts that read "Road to Change" to announce a national and statewide summer bus tour to register teens to vote in the midterm elections. Part of the tour involves talking to young people about gun reform measures and politicians who support those measures or back the National Rifle Association.

Read the full report at browardleague.org.



Colleen Wright can be reached at 305-376-2029 or @Colleen_Wright.
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