The Florida Influencer Series

Are schools safe enough? No, but it’s not related to new Florida laws, Influencers say

It’s been more than a year since the Florida Legislature passed laws improving student access to mental health services and requiring armed guards at every school in the state.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, enacted after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty, enabled local sheriffs — at the discretion of school districts — to establish a program to train school employees as armed guards.

The legislation also mandated that the state implement new incident-reporting tools and security risk assessment programs, while a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this year removed a provision from the first piece of legislation that barred classroom teachers from serving as armed guards.

But last month a statewide grand jury report said some districts have yet to fully comply.

In the wake of the mass shootings here and elsewhere across America, have Florida schools done enough to keep students inside safe?

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In a new survey of the Florida Influencers, a group of 50 prominent political and policy figures from across the state, a majority (88%) said no, but it isn’t necessarily because some schools haven’t complied with the state’s new requirements.

Many Influencers say that the lack of safety falls to the Legislature’s actions, which they say were far too narrow.

Fedrick Ingram, President of the Florida Education Association, said the problems lie with a lack of funding, not a lack of armed guards.

“Our schools have been scraping by on inadequate funding for at least a decade,” he said. “There are now more guns on campus than mental health counselors and nurses. Counselors are crucial to helping kids through problems and getting help before tragedy strikes.”

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Nancy Lawther, the president of the Miami-Dade County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, agreed that the Legislature acted too narrowly. Lawmakers need to take measures to address the larger problem of “societal violence,” in addition to allocating tangible resources, she says.

“It has failed to recognize that school safety is but a single component of the larger question of community safety,” she said. “In focusing so exclusively on the compliance of schools and school districts with new, hastily compiled and largely unfunded mandates, we are neglecting other factors, including the accessibility of weaponry of sufficient power to wipe out dozens in seconds. What is happening in Florida is a shifting of blame.”

Others like Lenore Rodicio of Miami Dade College, agreed that protecting students is a job that can’t be finished with a fixed amount of funding or a singular program.

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“Safety at our schools is a job which is never done. Ever,” said Rodicio, the college’s vice president and provost. “Ongoing facility improvements, technology upgrades and best practices in communications and incident response are also central, as is working closely with other agencies to address this matter with mutual aid and redundancy.”

A few Influencers, while in the minority (10%), said threats to schools often come from other sources — sources school districts often have little control over — so they weren’t sure if schools were doing enough.

Kerry-Ann Royes, president and CEO of the YWCA of Miami-Dade, said focusing on the school districts can detract from other issues such as gun violence and weapons reform.

“There are people looking for ways to harm our children when they gather for school,” said Royes, a mother of two children who attend Miami public schools. “There are more poorly tracked guns in Florida than I want to think about. And now we are allowing teachers to carry. We have invited the ‘wild wild west’ into our lives and it’s the most selfish failure lawmakers have ever made. I am a scared parent, and I still have scared kids.’’

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.