Better law enforcement and stronger school security are the big takeaways from the draft report released this week by the state commission investigating the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We know that bad things will happen anywhere, and that no school is exempt," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who heads the commission, said at the commission meeting. "The idea that ‘it can’t happen to me’ is dangerous and for those who don’t take this seriously and genuinely, there should be consequences."
The 407-page report lists where several Broward County agencies failed and makes recommendations to avoid another school shooting in the future. The final report is due New Year's Day.
The idea to arm teachers isn't new. The state commission is asking lawmakers to expand the so-called “guardian program” that allows some school staff to carry firearms.
"One of the more compelling things to me is that those teachers were defenseless sitting in those classrooms along with those students at the wrong end of a semiautomatic rifle,” said Ryan Petty, a member of the commission, whose daughter Alaina died on Feb. 14. “And to not give them the opportunity to protect themselves, I think, is a disservice to the teachers."
Commission member Max Schachter, whose son Alex was also killed in the shooting, cast the only dissenting vote against arming teachers.
State Sen. Lauren Book, who also serves on the commission and whose district includes Coral Springs, where many Stoneman Douglas families live, joined the South Florida Roundup Friday to discuss her support for arming teachers and how the commission came up with recommendations to bolster the police response during emergencies. She’s joined by host Tom Hudson and WLRN's Broward reporter Caitie Switalski.
WLRN: Sen. Book, are you satisfied that the committee got to what happened on Feb. 14?
LAUREN BOOK: I think this has been a Herculean task over the last eight months. We have really dedicated 100 percent of ourselves into looking at the things that happened. And I think this is a very good picture. The work of the task force is not done here. Even when the final report is submitted in January, we still have actually two or three more years to continue the work.
There's a lot more of the mental health component that we did not necessarily get to cover here. And some of the stuff that deals with firearms an accessibility. There are some other things that the commission will, I believe, in the preceding years continue to look at. This is not a single-faceted incident.
The report goes into detail. It took witness testimony of school security resource officers, of Broward County sheriff's deputies, Coral Springs police officers, fire rescue, parents. It took a long list of witnesses included in here. And there are buckets of recommendations at the tail end. Some of them include school security. Some of them include law enforcement, training and preparation.
Let's tackle first of all the school security part and this idea of arming teachers. It was a program that began with the Legislature and the law that was passed in the aftermath of the tragedy. The body in which you belong to has voted to recommend to expand that guardian program to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in school without the approval of the local county sheriff.
The first part of that is there are some districts in the state that are not abiding and following 1726 in terms of the guardian program. It really outlines that a school district and the school board must pass and want to engage with the guardian program and then the sheriff as a check and balance will engage and begin training some of these guardians. It was very clear that would not extend to classroom-based personnel.
What the recommendation does look at is expanding it to that classroom-based personnel. When we look at the totality of these facts, after really extensively watching every single second of the things that happened from 2:22 on Feb. 14th. Within 69 seconds, law enforcement still was just now getting a call. The first call to head out to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Seconds. Moments count. It is essential that we have people there on the school grounds to be able to respond to keep students and faculty safe in these types of events.
And you support that being classroom teachers with firearms?
This is a recommendation for the Legislature to look at, and based on these facts, I think that we do have to have somebody on that campus to be able to engage and keep those children and teachers safe.
More than school resource officers?
Well, we saw how that went.