Florida Schools Lag Behind on School Safety Measures
A Florida grand jury report says school districts continue to lag on safety measures following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) shooting on February 14, 2018, where a lone gunman murdered 14 students and three staff members.
On February 13, 2019, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a statewide grand jury to examine school safety issues in Broward County and throughout the state of Florida. According to the Supreme Court’s order, the grand jury investigates noncompliance with state laws addressing school safety, fraudulent acceptance of state funds for school safety measures while failing to act, and fraudulent use of funds that had been obtained for school safety initiatives.
However, on July 19, 2019, the grand jury issued a forceful three-page interim report that stated in part: “In the short time since this statewide grand jury has convened, we have heard and seen evidence of noncompliance with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act, Senate Bill 7026 (2018), and the Implementation of Legislative Recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Senate Bill 7030 (2019), in numerous school districts in the State of Florida. We have heard days of testimony from Department of Education, school district and law enforcement officials regarding administrative hurdles, increased costs to their districts, and shortages of the qualified employees necessary to bring these districts into compliance with these important safety measures. Without discussing the specifics of their explanations, suffice it to say we find this testimony wholly unpersuasive.”
The new report, published in November 2019, reveals that there is evidence that school authorities at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had received concerns from multiple students and parents about Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who murdered 14 students and three staff members. Multiple students had expressed fears that Cruz "may hurt other students and may even shoot up the school," notes the report.
Not all Florida schools are in compliance and not all Florida schools have achieved overall school safety success. "Schools have much work yet to be done and they must continue their efforts to ensure that all schools are as safe as possible at all times," says the report. Additional findings include:
- Not all Florida schools have complied with the requirement to employ at least one armed School Resource Officer (SRO), as well.
- There is a significant weakness in school security throughout the state, which is an inadequate use of Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool (FSSAT). The FSSAT has been underutilized and, in many cases, has not been properly used as the primary site security assessment tool, and some districts have not complied with the reporting requirements mandated by law.
- Broward County Public Schools had systemic failure with its behavioral threat assessment process. "The failure was due, at least in part, to ineffective implementation of the BCPS threat assessment policy, a lack of training, inexperience by school personnel, a lack of accountability at the District level and a failure of school administration to emphasize the importance of the threat assessment teams," says the report.
- There is an issue of non-reporting and under-reporting of criminal and other school incidents as required by law—the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR), as well.
- Florida’s mental health system is not adequately funded as evidenced by comparison to other states per capita funding. Florida’s mental health system, specifically the Baker Act System, which is an evaluation of an individual by law enforcement and mental health professionals that identifies individuals immediately at risk for self-harm or harming others. The system, says the Commission, needs better discharge planning, master case management, and care coordination. There is no adequate or effective system for tracking or flagging high recidivist Baker Acts.
- The report concluded that the "2017 shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School epitomized the problems within the Broward County Regional Communications System and they include: dysfunction, distrust, inefficiency, poor interpersonal relationships, poor policies, inadequate training, antiquated radio technology and equipment and ineffective leadership within the Regional Communications System." It also says that the Broward County law enforcement radio system remains a threat to public and officer safety "due to it being outdated and unable meet user capacity needs during instances of mass law enforcement response."
Senator Lauren Book, who is part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission (MSDPSC) and represents Broward County, District 32 in the Florida State Senate, says, "The findings and recommendations of the MSDPSC, which have been validated by the Grand Jury report, have kept me up nights for the past two years. The fact that many of the same critical safety issues that allowed one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings to occur still persist today should scare us all – and I do not believe that we are much safer today than we were February 14, 2018. Not because of inaction on the part of the Public Safety Commission or the Florida legislature, but because of some school districts’ continued effort to subvert the law out of convenience or self-interest. We cannot tolerate this. The lives lost at MSD must not be in vain, and the path forward is clear. Florida’s schools can and must be safe places."
Recently, Governor DeSantis announced the appointment of Ryan Petty to the State Board of Education (SBE). Petty, of Parkland, is the senior vice president of business-to-business products for Cable & Wireless Communications. Petty's 14-year-old daughter Alaina was one of 17 people killed in the MSDHS shooting in Parkland.
In 2018, he was appointed to the MSDPSC. Furthermore, he founded The WalkUp Foundation, a non-profit working to prevent the causes of violence in school through advocacy and intervention. Petty also has been touring the country giving presentations with the Secret Service, which just released a report on 41 targeted school violence incidents between 2002 and 2017.