My school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is about to start classes on Wednesday, along with the rest of Broward County. But the schools are in chaos and still not secured.
For months after the February 14 attack that left 17 people dead at my school, the Broward County School Board promised that Stoneman Douglas would be the site of a pilot program for metal detectors. Donations and offers of metal detectors and other school security measures came flooding in.
Twelve days before school starts, the school board announced that it hadn’t properly anticipated a long list of considerations. Those considerations ranged from privacy concerns to how metal detectors would impact school start times by creating bottlenecks at the entrance. It requires only a little common sense to realize that it takes some time to get 3,300 students through one school entrance with metal detectors.
Instead of the promised armed guards, we have received unarmed security staffers with little to no ability to protect. They are utterly incapable of stopping an active shooter.
Stand with Parkland, a group formed by victims’ families, called for the entire school board to be fired on account of its “indecisiveness, infighting and policy reversals.”
The board abdicated its responsibilities even before the February 14 massacre. In 2014, the superintendent and board were given $104 million in public grants to secure the schools. By 2018, they had spent only $5 million, leaving nearly $100 million completely unaccounted for, and leaving schools utterly vulnerable.
Superintendent Robert Runcie first tried to dismiss this as “fake news,” but the numbers showed that he simply hadn’t been honest. Given the disaster that had just befallen the community, it is understandable that he would want to hide his and the school board’s culpability.
Yet, the problem is deeper than mismanaging money, hiding mistakes, flip-flops, and not delivering on promised reforms. There is a significant lack of competent leadership in Broward Schools, from top to bottom, highlighted by the school board and the superintendent. Students don’t feel safe in schools right now due to the gross incompetence of those in charge, and that feeling, sadly, is justified and needs to be taken seriously.
School Superintendent Runcie argues that we should be “arming teachers with more money.” But under his “leadership”, we have already seen what happens when $100 million in school safety funds gets left in bonds and remains unused.
When a killer attacks a school, what matters is how quickly someone with a gun can intervene. Armed guards are better than unarmed ones, but being in uniform makes them an instant target for attackers. If a killer can eliminate the only officer with a gun, he can then shoot other victims at will. Stationing two armed guards would make a difference, but it would come at great financial cost to do this at every school across the country.
Some of those who’ve lost family members — Ryan Petty and Lori Alhadeff — know what is really at stake, having each lost a daughter at Douglas, and they are running for the school board in order to ensure that the board no longer plays shell games with money earmarked for school safety. They will follow through on promises because they don’t want what happened to them happening to others.
Exactly six months removed from the Parkland tragedy, we must reflect and be blunt with ourselves: the country isn’t seriously addressing the issue of school safety. This an absolute shame and something that makes every school vulnerable to another shooting.
I fear that another shooting could occur at Stoneman Douglas today. But I am even more concerned about the millions of innocent children who are even less safe at school than I am. How many more innocent children must die before the youth will finally be safe in their classrooms?