Armed teachers, stronger security and better law enforcement are needed to head off another school shooting like the one in Parkland, according to a panel reviewing the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The state commission investigating the shooting that killed 17 people on Feb. 14 released a draft report Wednesday listing a series of failures by Broward County agencies and recommendations for avoiding a similar tragedy in the future.
The 407-page report, which is not final, found that deputies didn’t rush into the school to stop the carnage, and school staff committed numerous security breaches, including leaving doors unlocked and not calling a “Code Red” alarm quickly enough.
The panel also voted to include a controversial proposal allowing classroom teachers to carry guns in schools if they go through a selection process that would include background checks and training. Such a change would require the state Legislature’s approval.
Right now, school systems are allowed under a guardian program to arm certain school employees, such as security guards, administrators or librarians.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a member of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, said that program needs to be expanded to allow teachers to carry guns.
“In the ideal world, we shouldn’t need anyone on campus with a gun, but that’s not the world we live in today,” he said. “One’s not enough. Two’s not enough. We need multiple people in order to protect the children.”
The idea has already sparked concerns from Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Teachers want to teach, not be armed for combat in their classrooms,” he said. “Law enforcement cannot push their responsibilities to make our communities safer on to civilians that should be focused on educating their students.”
Commission member Max Schachter, whose son was killed in the shooting, cast the sole dissenting vote. He said he’s heard from teachers who are opposed to the policy, and he said the commission should consider alternatives, such as hallway smoke cannons that would make it difficult for the killer to see.
Other controversial issues related to the shooting weren’t addressed in the commission’s draft report. It does not recommend new gun control policies. The commission also decided to stand back from some of its more expensive and elaborate proposals, such as metal detectors and bulletproof glass.
It also did not call for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to be suspended from office. That’s a decision the governor will make. Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, who will be sworn in on Jan. 8, has called repeatedly for Israel’s removal on the campaign trail.
Ryan Petty, a commission member whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the attack, said the initial focus should be on quick, low-cost improvements that could produce the biggest immediate gains, from increasing school security to making sure threats are taken seriously.
“This was the most preventable school shooting that I’ve ever seen data on,” he said. “This kid was screaming for help by publishing his intentions.”
The panel is recommending that the Broward Sheriff’s Office conduct an internal review of the performance of seven deputies who heard shots and failed to take steps to engage the shooter.
Deputies spent time retrieving ballistic vests and other equipment instead of rushing to confront the shooter, the report states.
That conduct was “unacceptable and contrary to accepted protocol under which the deputies should have immediately moved towards the gunshots to confront the shooter,” the report concluded.
The report also said that other deputies did respond properly.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of the commission, said he didn’t see anything that Israel did that would rise to the level of “malfeasance or misfeasance.”
“He had some personnel that failed,” Gualtieri said. “Any law enforcement organization is going to have people that fail. And just because individuals fail doesn’t mean that the leader of the organization is a failure.”
The report calls on law enforcement agencies to craft policies making clear that shooters should be confronted. Broward County’s policy states that law enforcement “may” confront a threat, while other agencies have policies stating that they “shall” confront a shooter. Israel said he wanted his deputies to have discretion and did not want to encourage them to engage in “suicide missions,” the report states.
The report also found problems with command and control in the initial time of the crisis.
“There was abundant confusion over the location of the command post and the role of the staging area. This stemmed from an absence of command and control and an ineffective radio system,” the report said.
In a statement, Israel said he is reviewing the report.
“We will use it as a basis to conduct our own thorough investigation, and we’ll take appropriate steps to make any necessary improvements,” he said.
The panel wants every school district to craft detailed written policies for responding to a shooter on campus. The policies would make clear that any school personnel could call a Code Red alarm, signaling an immediate danger requiring children to hide behind locked doors. Hard corners, places where students could hide from a gunman, need to be created in classrooms, the commission said. And more funding needs to be allocated for upgrades.
Gualtieri said school districts need to face consequences if they don’t act quickly.
“There is a culture problem in the Florida schools, and the culture problem is that they view security as a thorn in their side, as a pain in their neck,” he said
Broward school officials say they are reviewing the report and have already made numerous safety improvements.
The report stressed the need for greater communication among agencies and adjusting privacy laws for information to be shared. Between the time Cruz was 3 years old in January 2002 and the time he was 19 years old in January, there were 69 documented incidents where Cruz threatened someone, engaged in violence, talked about guns or other weapons or engaged in other concerning behavior, according to the report.
The commission didn’t take the step of recommending the most costly school safety improvements, such as metal detectors and bulletproof glass. Instead, the panel referred those expensive items to the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools for further review.
“Some of this stuff is going to be so expensive it’s unrealistic,” said Mike Carroll, former secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families and a member of the commission. “But there’s some stuff in here that we really would encourage all schools to do.”
The final report will be presented to the governor and state Legislature by Jan. 1. The commission consists of law enforcement officers, public officials and parents of the murdered students. It will continue its discussions of the draft report Thursday.
Democratic State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, whose district includes the Parkland area, said he expects the report will play a key role in spurring change during the next legislative session.
“I think you’ll see dramatic action from the Legislature and the governor-elect’s office,” said Moskowitz, who is leaving the Legislature to become the state’s emergency management chief. “The only one responsible for what happened is the parkland shooter, but several significant government failures contributed significantly. The legislature is going to look for accountability on that.”