Dec 10, 2019
States Across the Nation Address School Safety
Beyond the ever-growing list of pressures today’s schools face is the looming threat of another school shooting. Ever since Columbine in 1999, schools and law enforcement agencies have taken great precautions to prevent these horrific events from happening, and yet, they continue.
States across the country have enacted legislation to address school safety, with 731 bills or resolutions filed on school safety in 48 states in 2018-20191. In 2019, the majority of enacted legislation has been related to funding of school safety activities, assignment or training of school resource officers, establishment of training programs related to school safety, the outlining of reporting requirements related to mental health and firearms, and addressing school building infrastructure as it relates to improving security and response.
As the third largest state in the nation, and home to two recent mass shootings--Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018 and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016--Florida is seriously reconsidering its approach to school safety, and making headlines in the process. Over the past two years, Florida has taken action on school safety, and mass shootings more broadly, in primarily three areas: 1) school safety officers, 2) mental health services, and 3) gun control.
School Safety Officers
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, lawmakers created a taskforce to study exactly what happened at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), and what could have been done to prevent it. On January 2, 2019, the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission released its initial report to the governor, legislature, and the public with findings and recommendations regarding how to improve school safety across Florida’s 67 public school districts. Many of the recommendations stemmed from failures of communication among various law enforcement agencies and the school district, as well as a lack of policies and training within the district on how to handle active shooter situations. A majority of the Commsion’s recommendations have been adopted by the Legislature. You can read the Commission’s complete findings here.
One of the Commission’s most controversial recommendations was creating a volunteer school officer program utilizing school staff, known as the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after the football coach who gave his life protecting students at MSD. This was adopted by the Legislature in 2018 to include non-classroom staff and expanded in 2019 to allow teachers to participate. Lawmakers now require districts to assign a school safety officer (either a school resource officer or a trained guardian) to every school in the state and provided nearly $170 million to pay for these officers and the guardians’ training.
Months before the shooting in Parkland occurred, Florida Senators proposed adding millions of dollars to the education budget to address mental health challenges in schools. The MSD shooting further solidified that need and a record $69 million was set aside to start or expand school-based mental health services in 2018. That was increased $75 million in 2019.
School personnel are now required to undergo evidence-based youth mental health awareness training to help identify students at risk. Additionally, Florida created an app that allows students, families, and staff to report risky behavior by other students. Since its implementation, the app has already helped law enforcement identify and stop potentially threats.
Separately, Florida’s First Lady has been working on various mental health initiatives, including a telehealth pilot program in the Panhandle, to ensure students can access mental health services any time or place.
Nicknamed the “Gunshine State,” Florida has traditionally been very friendly to supporters of the second amendment. So it was historic when in 2018, just weeks after Parkland and almost two years after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Florida lawmakers passed major gun reform legislation. The package included a three day waiting period from purchase to delivery of guns (until a background check can be completed), the so-called “red flag” law, which allows courts to approve--at the request of law enforcement--the temporary seizure of weapons for those deemed at risk of hurting themselves or others, as well as raising the minimum age to buy guns from 18 to 21 years old.
Read a high level summary on Florida’s gun control legislation as well as the other school safety reforms in this New York Times piece from 2018 or find a detailed summary of all school safety legislation and related budget items on the Florida Senate’s website.
Read more on national education trends from MWC's National Education Team: