Meeting for the first time since last September, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission gathered at FLA Live Arena to discuss the state of school security in Florida.
The meeting came as the Parkland killer’s trial was proceeding across town, making it an especially difficult time for two of the commissioners who each lost a child in the massacre, Ryan Petty and Max Schachter. Yet each of them took their place on the dais to discuss threat assessments, emergency communications issues, armed guardians on campus and many more issues.
“Anybody that thinks there’s a finish line as to school safety is absolutely wrong, there’s no finish line,” said chairman Bob Gualtieri, the sheriff of Pinellas County.
Without a doubt, everyone in the room agreed with that assessment.
“We cannot let complacency become the norm here,” Schachter said.
The superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, Dr. Vickie Cartwright, outlined her district’s actions on school security.
“I am committed to ensuring the district works diligently on the recommendations of the prior meetings,” Cartwright said.
She discussed the creation of a threat assessment department, which Gualtieri called a total turnaround.
“It was the poster child for the way it shouldn’t be done to just the opposite, and I think it’s a model for the way it should be done,” Gualtieri said.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony testified about improvements he says his agency has made in emergency communications. Tony pointed out that since he raised salaries, BSO has been able to erase a staffing shortage among dispatchers and 911 operators.
“We learned from MSD about the importance of dispatching resources and getting enough personnel out there fast, swiftly, without having to make multiple calls,” Tony said, referring to the difficulties first responders faced on that day, especially in communicating with each other at the scene.
Tony also said 911 calls from Parkland are still routed through Coral Springs, which he said could cause a delayed response.
“They are still in the process of trying to integrate into that system, that is correct,” Tony responded to a question from Schachter, who then said, “Four and a half years later and it’s still not fixed, that’s extremely frustrating.”
However, Coral Springs firefighter Mike Moser showed how all first responders in the county can now, unlike in 2018, communicate with each other on a predetermined radio channel reserved for big events.
“At any time, any first responder in Broward County, police or fire, from any agency, will have that channel on their radio so that they can communicate,” Moser explained, saying it’s “definitely an improvement.”
From the courtroom downtown to the hearing room in the suburbs, the commission meeting drew some family members of the victims. Tony Montalto spoke about the impact of the group he co-founded, Stand With Parkland, including advocating for the federal, bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed into law recently by President Joe Biden.
“It’s got Stand With Parkland’s DNA built into it,” Montalto said, mentioning the law’s emphasis on securing schools, mental health support, and responsible firearms ownership. “Everything that Stand With Parkland is able to accomplish is not only part of Gina’s legacy but all those who were murdered at MSD High School, all 17 of those individuals have made an impact.”
Schachter echoed the same sentiment.
“It’s been really, really hard sitting there and listening to all the testimony, and then having to shift gears to this, to try to make schools safer across the state, it’s really difficult for me but I want to do this, this is my mission, I do this for Alex, he’s with me every day,” Schachter said.
Schachter said one issue which stands out for him is data reporting. The commission pointed out that school districts vary tremendously in how they report incidents on campus, such as fights or weapons found. Schachter says the state needs to establish a uniform reporting system so that schools with more issues can receive more help.