Marjory Stoneman Douglas panel looks for ways to bolster Florida school security

click to enlarge Marjory Stoneman Douglas panel looks for ways to bolster Florida school security
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission met Thursday as it continued reviewing events surrounding the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland that killed 17 students and faculty members.

The commission, created in March as part of a school safety law (SB 7026) passed in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, discussed security risk assessments, school discipline programs and new mental-health assistance programs during the meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

But the meeting began with Andrew Pollock, whose daughter Meadow was killed at the school, announcing his resignation from the commission. Pollack did not attend the meeting but said in a letter he was resigning to help elect candidates to the Broward County School Board to “ensure that our schools are safe.”

On May 15, Ryan Petty and Lori Alhadeff, both of whom lost daughters in the shooting, held a joint press conference announcing their candidacies for the county school board.

Pollack also said that he will spend time on an independent investigation that will, “get to the bottom of who was responsible for the atrocities that occurred” and hold legally accountable agencies and individuals responsible for the shooting.

“I’m sad. I mean, Andy was a valuable member of this team. We liked his perspective, and it saddens me that he’s not here,” said Max Schachter, father of victim Alex Schachter and a commission member. “Hopefully, the governor will pick another very well-qualified candidate that can add experience and value to this commission so we can accomplish a lot of good things.”

The law passed after the shooting included a series of steps designed to improve school safety. The commission, which will meet again Friday, discussed some of those issues as it looks for ways to prevent other mass shootings.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is chairman of the commission, said the new law requires every school in the state to have an on-site security risk assessment known as the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool by Aug.1. This assessment involves looking at facility vulnerabilities and site-hardening needs.

Also, the appointment of a school safety officer and school safety specialist in all districts is required by July 1. New mental-health assistance must be implemented for the start of the 2018-2019 academic year.

“The Department of Education must establish an evidence-based youth mental health awareness and assistance curriculum for students,” Gualtieri said. “By the start of the school year, students must disclose prior mental health bills.”

By having records of mental-health referrals, school districts can refer students to mental health services. Additionally, each school district is required to have a student crime-watch program. The program allows anonymous reporting to public-safety and school officials.

Gualtieri said he has 800 pages of records on Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz’s mental health.

“I can tell you with absolute, objective certainty that through 2017 to 2018, Henderson Behavioral Health (a mental-health provider) had no contact with (Nikolas) Cruz whatsoever,” said Gualtieri. “The last contact was in December 2016, while Cruz was evaluated under the Baker Act in October 2016.”

State Vice Chancellor of Public Schools Jacob Oliva presented the board with changes to the Zero Tolerance Policy for Crime and Victimization. Changes include school districts adopting policies that require threat-assessment teams to consult with law enforcement when students exhibit patterns of behavior based on previous acts or severity of acts that would pose a threat to school safety.

Zero-tolerance policies would not be applied to petty acts. Incidents required to be reported to law enforcement are battery, homicide, kidnapping, sexual battery and weapons possession. Incidents that may not involve consultation with law enforcement include bullying, fighting, sexual harassment, harassment and tobacco.

Petty, a commission member and the father of victim Alaina Petty, asked Oliva if it was the Florida Department of Education’s role to track compliance with incident reporting or who would be responsible for that.

“Good question,” said Oliva. “The department requires districts to submit that data and adhere to timelines because we have to report some of those elements that federally determine those incidents and, I guess, analyzing the data at a local level. We get what the districts send us.”

Also during the meeting, Bob Kolasky, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, explained best practices for schools for active assailant prevention and response. Kolasky said his department is studying ways to enhance school safety to prevent events similar to the Broward shooting.

“A lot of what we talk about is things that happen when someone with a gun gets there, but train and be ready for someone with a gun to get there,” Kolasky said. “School security needs to be designed with a learning environment in mind. Making sure that school is a place where kids learn is important.”

Kolasky mentioned the “If You See Something, Say Something” program, which can alert law enforcement or school officials to problems. He said he discussed it with his daughter and that “we must break the culture of not telling on others” to help prevent tragedies.

Florida Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, asked Kolasky about the “Stop the Bleed” program, which trains people to perform triage before first responders arrive on scene. Kolasky said the program would increase the likelihood of survival.

Schachter said that the Stop the Bleed Program has started in Broward County.

“Westglades (a middle school next to Douglas) already has the kits and already trained the teachers and we’re in the process of doing it at Douglas,” Schachter said.

After raising a question about where the Department of Homeland Security stands on national school-safety standards, Schachter tearfully asked Kolasky to bring a message back to Washington: Please visit the site of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“What’s so important in all of this is the funding, and we would certainly love the federal government’s help in increasing school safety,” Schachter he said. “Even though we’re appreciative of the Stop School Violence Act, $75 million for the entire United States is absolutely ridiculous. We need a lot of help. We need a lot of money. Just for one ballistic hardwood door and glass is $3,900 for one door.”

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