Two months after a massacre in Parkland made security the top focus in Broward County schools, many parents and students say the school district is doing too little to ensure safety.
An emotionally charged school security forum at Plantation High drew hundreds who complained about what they saw as an ineffective response by the school district both before and after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in which former student Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members.
The meeting, often marked by shouting by some speakers and frequent outbursts by the crowd, was supposed to last two hours; it went an hour longer because of the large turnout.
Several parents accused the district of failing to learn any lessons from the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 13 people dead.
“You had 19 years and you failed,” said Michelle Rosen, whose daughter, Dara, attends Stoneman Douglas. “Nobody said after Columbine, ‘Holy crap, we should do something to make sure this doesn’t happen to our kids.’”
Several students and parents criticized Stoneman Douglas’s clear backpack policy and other security measures, which they found ineffective. They said students are getting around the backpack policy by putting liners or non-clear bags inside them, and that school officials were inconsistent at searching them. And they said the large presence by Broward Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement creates a false sense of security.
“Why do we have clear backpacks if they aren’t being enforced?” asked Angelina Lazo, a senior at the school. “Why do we have BSO everywhere if they aren’t doing their job and just seem to be hanging around our campus?”
Alex Wind, a student activist at Stoneman Douglas, asked Superintendent Robert Runcie, “Will you do everything in your power to prevent this from happening again at any other school?”
Runcie replied that “the answer is an unequivocal yes.”
Some students complained that the district has focused on security measures at Stoneman Douglas while ignoring other schools.
“What about every other school in Broward County? What about every other student who is scared to go to school?” asked Riley Lassiter, a senior at Coral Springs High.
Lassiter said she’s seen no noticeable security upgrades at Coral Springs, even though a former student brought a gun to school and threatened violence in 2016.
Runcie said the district is conducting an assessment as part of a grant application and will determine what security upgrades are needed at all schools.
Broward Schools Chief of Staff Jeff Moquin received applause and boos when he said the district won’t take part in a state guardian program where employees are trained to use guns.
“We don’t believe the solution to school safety is arming our employees,” Moquin said.
Some speakers suggested that Runcie or School Board members need to be replaced. Several said the district had ignored offers to provide free security upgrades to schools. Other speakers said Broward’s discipline policies are too lenient and allow problematic students to stay in school.
Two female students at Charles Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines complained that 20 students were threatened by a knife, and they don’t feel like the school took their concerns seriously. They said the student was suspended but returned to school, causing more fear.
Runcie asked for patience as the district works to make changes.
“It continues to be a difficult time,” he said. “The grief, the recovery, the anger — it’s going to be a journey we’re going to go through and it’s not going to happen overnight. I ask for your patience, your collaboration, your input and your grace as we go through this process.”