The Parkland shooter reloaded outside of my classroom door.
As a mom, I wanted a national conversation about gun control. As a teacher, I wanted a conversation about our schools. But we only got one of those.
As soon as I pulled my wits together, I knew the school district must have terribly failed the shooter. I wanted to how and why.
But my question became a political football. CNN’s Jake Tapper asked whether our school district’s disciplinary leniency policies enabled the shooter to slip through the cracks. But our Superintendent, Robert Runcie, labeled that question right-wing “fake news.”
A week after the massacre, my mom and I watched Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter Meadow, speak at the White House and say, “There should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it! And I’m pissed! … We all work together and come up with the right idea, and its school safety.”
My mom told me “that’s the guy who will get you your answers.” I almost laughed. We had nothing in common. I am a liberal Democrat. Pollack is a Trump supporter. My heart broke for him, but I couldn’t imagine us getting along.
But Pollack wanted answers, so we teamed up on an investigation that has now become his book: Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students.
This was the most avoidable mass murder in American history, and we need to learn our lessons. One key lesson is a problem that every teacher knows about, but few are willing to speak up to pro-test: the over “inclusion” of students with severe misbehavior.
Federal law requires labeling deeply troubled students as having an “emotional and behavioral” disability. Schools are pressured to mainstream these students at all costs and often against common sense into normal classrooms, where principals feel pressure to cover up serious misbehavior so that we don’t “disproportionately” discipline students with disabilities.
The Parkland shooter’s story was an extreme case study in a common phenomenon that creates a thousand tragedies a day that are never reported.
He should have never stepped foot in our school.
He couldn’t have been any clearer that he wanted to become a murderer. In middle school, he talked about guns almost daily and terrorized students. One of his teachers wrote, “I feel strongly that [he] is a danger to the students and faculty at this school.”
Even he knew he didn’t belong there. He once asked another student “how am I even still at this school?” He even tried committing suicide, but that didn’t speed up the process of sending him to a specialized school, because an assistant principal labeled it an act of “minor disruption.”
It took many months of terror to transfer him to a specialized school. While there, he told his therapist he had dreams of killing and being covered in blood. The therapist was so unnerved that she took the extremely unusual step of writing his private psychiatrist to express concern.
But after a couple of calm months, they decided he was ready to attend my high school. And, maybe because he kept talking about guns so much, they decided to enroll him in JROTC where he could practice shooting.
Our school administrators were so scared he might bring a deadly weapon that they prohibited him from wearing a backpack and frisked him every day. But they didn’t have him arrested. Nor did they initiate the process to try to send him back to a specialized school. Perhaps because despite the fact that campus security took him to the office all the time, his record actually looked pretty clean on paper.
Broward’s effort to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline” by reducing suspensions, expulsions and arrests has led to massive under-reporting and disorder. Half of the teachers here in Broward fear for their safety, and only 39 percent of teachers here expect that if a student assaults them, the student will even be suspended.
After the Parkland murders, two parents and one friend of the victims ran for school board seats on platforms of accountability and reform. Parents of all the victims stood as one to beseech the community to vote for change. But Broward voters yawned. Only one candidate won. Nothing has changed.
If the most preventable school shooting in history can’t persuade parents to vote for new school board members, then I despair for the possibility of meaningful change. At least not in Broward.
But hopefully the full story, told in all of its heart-breaking, infuriating detail, will wake parents up in other communities. Republicans and Democrats should be able to fight like cats and dogs about gun control without making school safety a casualty. We need to look at the failures, learn from them and fix them.
You send your kid to school. They should be safe there. You get them back at the end of the day. That’s all that should matter, and that’s what we need to focus on.
Kim Krawczyk is a math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Her story is featured in Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students.