A Parkland Teacher Warned There Wasn't Enough Mental Health Support After The Massacre. Now She Is Seeing Her Worst Fears Realized.
“I know what’s coming,” Kim Krawczyk said last year. "The level of depression is going to be detrimental if we don’t plan or properly treat it.”
The night before their last day of school, Kim Krawczyk had a sinking feeling. Her students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where months earlier 17 people died in a mass shooting, weren’t bouncing back. She could see them withdrawing, failing classes, and acting out, but she didn't have the resources to help them.
“We don’t know how to handle this,” the teacher told BuzzFeed News in June 2018. “I have a kid failing two classes and she was a straight-A student before. She hasn’t received proper services. The kids are all over the place in terms of where they are getting help and support."
Last Valentine's Day, Krawczyk was on the third floor, Room 1257, teaching geometry to her 25 ninth-graders when a former student stormed into her building and opened fire.
When the shooting finally stopped, the first thing she and her students saw when they opened their classroom door to flee was Scott Beigel, a beloved geography teacher and cross-country coach, dead in his own classroom's doorway.
But months later, as the school year was winding down, Krawczyk said Beigel’s students still “were never formally addressed” and debriefed, emblematic of how the large high school at the center of one of the worst mass shootings in US history was still woefully lacking in trauma-trained therapists and services.
“I know what’s coming,” she said at the time. “After these kids are done being a hashtag and the adrenaline dies down, their friends are still dead. That’s going to set in. The level of depression is going to be detrimental if we don’t plan or properly treat it.”
Talking with BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, Krawczyk described the frustration and pain of watching students continue to suffer because of those lack of resources.
Days earlier, she learned that Parkland shooting survivor Calvin Desir, 16, killed himself. His family has not spoken publicly and it is unclear if his death was related to the 2018 shooting. Experts also caution against trying to find a single motivation for a person’s suicide. But Krawczyk had just attended the funeral for 19-year-old Sydney Aiello, another shooting survivor who killed herself March 17. Aiello's mother said her daughter had been diagnosed with PTSD and was struggling with survivor’s guilt.
Krawczyk told BuzzFeed News she didn't find the suicides surprising given a "really reactive school district" that doesn't "get out in front of things the way they should."
Broward County Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Krawczyk noted that there have been some improvements. Last year, the district had five trauma-trained professionals for more than 270,000 students. Now, there are 50 counselors ready to be deployed.
But, she said, “it should not have cost two lives before [mental health] became a priority."
Last summer, Krawczyk, whose students Alex Schachter and Alaina Petty were killed in the massacre, described how the district brought social workers to campus who “weren’t trauma trained.” They would also rotate daily, so students were rarely able to talk with the same person.
“The kids would have to repeat their story, what they saw over and over," she said at the time. "Or [the counselors] would just read, ‘It’s OK to be sad. It gets better,’ like off a list. It was awful.”
As a result, she said students were withdrawing from school and having behavioral problems. Two had started cutting themselves, she said. One sophomore was so emotionally incapacitated she "was homebound and studying there," she added. Two others had exhibited such concerning behavior authorities had to get involved.
Now, students who "internalized everything" are beginning to act out in other ways, she said.
"Kids are self-medicating," Krawczyk said. "We've had kids arrested on campus for having THC. Kids suspended for vaping. For having alcohol on campus. All these things are becoming more frequent."
She's losing more students each day, too. After the shooting's anniversary, four dropped out, bringing her total up to eight since the school year started.
Her straight-A freshman who had failed two classes last year is now a sophomore but only on campus part-time because "she was having trouble integrating every day," Krawczyk said.
Krawczyk is now regularly seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma and still has a group chat with all 25 of her students from last year to check in. Many don't want to go to the wellness center "because there's no trust there," she said.
On Saturday, Krawczyk and other teachers are attending a suicide prevention workshop, the second one offered since the shooting. She wants to know why there have not been more of them districtwide.
She also wants to know why there was not a more robust mental health initiative sooner and why, for the first time, they're having a frank conversation with students that it's OK to not be OK, to hurt.
"We keep hearing the phrase 'move on.' You don’t move on. Not from this. You move forward," she said. "This will be part of these kids’ lives forever. They need something in their toolkit that helps them get through these times ... to hang on and know we will move forward."
Parkland student Alaina Petty's name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.