Nearly a year after 17 people were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., schools across the state remain unsafe and unprepared, according to a report released Wednesday by a public safety commission formed in the wake of the shooting.
“Even after the MSDHS shooting and the implementation of new Florida law requiring certain safety measures, there remains non-compliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles in Florida’s K-12 schools,” the report states, calling on school districts, law enforcement agencies, local governments and mental health providers to adopt better security policies. “There must be a sense of urgency — and there is not, across-the-board — in enhancing school safety.”
The report found that Nikolas Cruz, who confessed to carrying out the shooting, should never have been able to walk onto campus and enter the school building unencumbered. It also says students should have had a safe place to hide in their classrooms, and school resource officers and staff should have had enough training to know precisely how to respond to the active shooter situation.
In the wake of the shooting, the Broward County School District, which includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, installed new security cameras, upgraded intercom systems, added more armed employees throughout the district and installed new locks and fencing around Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But the implementation of many other measures has stalled, and the commission urged more action from Broward County and other districts.
“Today, in Broward County, there is no hard corner policy, there is no active assailant response policy. How can that be, 10 months after the incident? It’s not right. There has to be a will to change the way that we’re doing business,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the commission, said at a press conference Wednesday. (Hard corners are spots where students can move to be safe from bullets fired through a classroom door or window.)
In a statement, a spokesperson for Broward County schools said the district has invested millions of dollars to improve school security and will continue to review the recommendations in the report.
The report recommended that school districts across the state issue a clear emergency response policy, keep all campus gates and classroom doors locked and closed during school hours, allow teachers to lock their doors from inside the classrooms and have keys with them at all times, and offer regular trainings for emergency situations.
“There are a whole bunch of things that are basic — very, very basic — harm mitigation strategies that can be put in place and should already have been put in place, but haven’t been because people don’t have the will to do it,” Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri acknowledged that securing enough funding for expensive safety measures is a legitimate problem in many districts. But he said schools should prioritize steps that are important and less costly, such as establishing active shooter policies that assign clear responsibilities to school employees and designating hard corners in every classroom.
“There are kids who died at Stoneman Douglas High School because they couldn’t get into the hard corner, the safe area of that classroom, because the policy of the Broward County School District was and is that they allow the teachers to set up their classrooms in the manner in which those teachers think is most conducive for a good educational environment,” Gualtieri said Wednesday.
“It’s important that we teach our kids, but you can’t teach dead kids,” he added. “And they need to take this seriously.”
That’s why students in Florida’s Polk County schools will return from winter break on Monday to see black and yellow tape marking hard corners in each classroom.
“The whole emphasis is making sure that we have a visual, not only for staff but for students to see, in the event that something happens, this area is designated. It’s not going to be that they can’t get to an area because there are desks or stuff stacked up,” Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd tells TIME.
“When children come to school, we want them to be able to learn, but we want them to be safe and want their parents to know we’re trying to create a safe environment for their students and a safe environment for our faculty.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is on the public safety commission, and Byrd says the district will work closely with his office in the coming months to implement other safety measures. She declined to disclose further plans, saying it could compromise school security.
Meanwhile, Martin County School District hired a security director last summer to improve school safety, and has been using hard corners in active shooter drills. “We make sure everybody is out of the line of sight,” Frank Frangella, the district’s director of safety and security, told local station WPTV in November.
Other districts have changed their policies to keep school gates locked more often during the school day.
The Florida legislature passed a school safety law last year, requiring armed security on every campus, a designated threat assessment team at each school, expanded mental health care, and emergency plans and procedures for frequent active shooter drills.
But the report warned that without an official body to ensure accountability and sanction non-compliance with the law, it could be ineffective.
“If we don’t take a different approach and have a different mindset, then we are not going to have a different result,” Gualtieri said, “We’ve got to have a different result than what happened at Stoneman Douglas.”
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