Almost immediately after the Valentine’s Day massacre happened at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, the conversations about making schools more secure started.
“Children will continue to die, we will have more school shootings over and over unless we harden our schools,” said Max Schachter, a Stoneman Douglas parent.
No one is more invested in the effort than the families of the Stoneman Douglas victims. Schachter’s son, Alex, was one of the 17 killed in the rampage.
“Our goal is to bring everyone together focused on making our five Parkland schools the safest and then spread that out to the entire district, entire nation,” Schachter said.
Schachter quit his job and founded Safe Schools for Alex, a non-profit dedicated to making schools more secure. Like the other parents of victims, Schachter channeled his grief into a cause. He has met with lawmakers in Washington and Tallahassee and he has partnered with other groups, such as SOS Parkland, (Secure Our Schools Parkland) to find ways to prevent mass school shootings.
“We’re talking about cameras, we’re talking about bullet detection systems, we’re talking about counter measures that can be launched from law enforcement to really attack the attacker,” Schachter explained.
Schachter led a delegation, which included Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie, to see Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Indiana. It’s been called the safest school in America, and Schachter says it’s a blueprint to follow.
The school has extensive security cameras, every classroom has bulletproof locking doors and safe spaces, teachers can press a button to instantly report an emergency, and police can launch a remote-controlled smoke or pepper spray attack on an intruder from equipment mounted in hallway ceilings.
It’s designed to slow down, confuse, or incapacitate the bad guy.
“Unless you have that capability to attack the attacker, the children are basically sitting ducks,” Schachter said.
How much does all that technology cost? Schachter says just to install locking, bullet-proof doors with bullet-proof glass would run $3,900 per classroom. That’s $858,000 for Stoneman Douglas High School alone.
The state of Florida allocated $100 million statewide for school hardening projects. That amounts to about $23,000 per public school, a drop in the proverbial bucket. So SOS Parkland has embarked on a fundraising effort, with a GoFundMe page, to make security improvements on their own with the blessings of the Broward County School District.
“The District is supportive of our efforts, they are listening to what we’re talking about,” said Bo Landy, founder of SOS Parkland. “I do know that we are gonna see security changes, it’s not even an “if”, there will be security changes before school starts.”
Landy is also a Parkland parent. He and Schachter, along with other members of their groups, are in the process of evaluating proposals from security companies. 10 firms recently came to Parkland to show off their systems.
Landy and Schachter are also consulting experts on best practices for school safety.
They will report back to Broward school officials with their findings and recommendations.
“It’s all positive, they want to know, they’re anxious to hear what our recommendations are,” Schachter said. “And once we have them we’re going to have a conference with them to go over everything, it’s all got to be coordinated because we don’t want to put something in Stoneman Douglas that’s not going to function with the entire system.”
Sooner rather than later, they say, the public will see physical security improvements along with policy changes coming to local schools.
Schachter says he hopes eventually, there will be national standards for all schools to follow.
“I was extremely upset and angered by the fact that we have fire codes and have had them to prevent children dying in a fire since 1958, but we don’t have national school safety standards,” Schachter said.