Almost a year after a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 students and teachers at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, a state commission tasked with investigating the massacre unanimously concluded in a sweeping report that students are still unsafe and recommended arming teachers, spending more on security, and retooling lax mental health laws.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission approved the final 458-page report on Wednesday, listing dozens of recommendations to bolster school safety and laying out in detail the litany of missteps and mistakes that, they argue, contributed to one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
Fifteen people, including the parents of Parkland victims, spent months evaluating the shooting and the current state of school districts and found that officials at the local and state levels had been shelving safety reforms.
“Even after the MSDHS shooting and the implementation of new Florida law requiring certain safety measures, there remains noncompliance and a lack of urgency to enact basic safety principles in Florida’s K-12 schools,” the commission stated. “There must be a sense of urgency — and there is not, across the board — in enhancing school safety.”
Impassioned and visibly frustrated, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chair of the commission, explained the report's findings in a press conference on Wednesday, lambasting officials for not taking school safety seriously or holding anyone accountable for letting needed reforms slip by.
The sheriff and several parents from the district have said they support arming teachers, which is one of the most controversial recommendations for quickly enhancing school security.
“So what are we saying to people — we’re not going to allow you to defend yourself, we’re not going to allow you to defend the kids — why? Because of some ideology that we don’t like guns? Anyone who thinks they’re going to get rid of guns is crazy,” he said.
Currently, Florida only allows teachers with specific military and police backgrounds to arm themselves. The report recommends the state change its law to enable educators who take and pass a training program and background check to carry concealed weapons on campus.
The state teachers union and PTA have vehemently opposed this proposal.
Gualtieri also emphasized that some students died in the shooting because they didn't have safe spaces in their classrooms to hide and authorities flubbed "basic" strategies. Even after the shooting, several school districts have failed to mandate reviews of their safety plans and procedures and properly install school officers, he lamented.
"You can't teach dead kids. They need to take this seriously and they need to get off the mark and move the needle and they need to fix this," Gualtieri continued. "People need to stop playing games with this. This is serious stuff. There has to be a will to change the way we are doing business."
The commissioners also criticized the Broward County Sheriff's Office, specifically Sheriff Scott Israel and the seven deputies who were first on the scene, for instituting a weak active-shooter policy, hanging back during the shooting, fumbling communications, and a failure to confront the gunman.
The report recommends that the office revise its policy to require officers to immediately target a shooter during an active situation and that school deputies have “frequent, thorough, and realistic training to handle high-risk, high-stress situations, especially single-officer response training.”
The commission recommended the Broward school district investigate its principal and vice principal for potentially failing to follow up on threats to the campus and pointed out that the school did not have clear procedures for locking down classrooms during an emergency, which resulted in a three-minute chaotic window in which the shooter was allegedly able to kill more students, the report said.
When students display concerning or dangerous behavior, such as threatening to harm someone, the commission said that mental health and counseling providers should be required to notify law enforcement. Mental health records should also be included in a student's file that moves with them as they transfer from school to school.
While the commission unanimously agreed on the comprehensive findings, the report is empaneled until 2023, meaning that the members can make additional recommendations.
Nikolas Cruz, now 20, has pleaded not guilty to the massacre. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.