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Keep the focus on the school security | Editorial
The Legislature should pursue more proposals from a state panel, including improving mental health services and campus security drills.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, two weeks after the school shooting there, in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 28, 2018. Saul Martinez / The New York Times
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, two weeks after the school shooting there, in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 28, 2018. Saul Martinez / The New York Times
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 3, 2020

More mental health services. Better communications for police. Smarter campus security drills. The state panel investigating the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland recently offered a new round of worthy recommendations for improving school safety. The proposals build on earlier reforms to keep changing a lingering culture of complacency, and state lawmakers should pursue them when the legislative session begins in January.

The commission impaneled after 14 students and three staff members were killed at Douglas High issued its second report in November, bringing new focus to the failures that contributed to the mass shooting and the work still ahead in improving campus security across the state. The panel’s first report, issued in January, addressed major security breakdowns that contributed to the Douglas High shooting, and it laid the groundwork for changes to state law that have improved the safety of school campuses.

The new report recognizes that “school safety in Florida has improved in the 20 months since the shooting." But the commission was unsparing in its criticism of schools that failed to follow through on a range of reforms. The commission chairman, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, called it “stunning” that “some Florida schools were non-compliant with school safety laws that took effect in March of 2018.” He said that regardless of whether the “causes of non-compliance are complacency, resistance to the law, or both,” it was “unfathomable” that after so many school shootings in the United States that any Florida school would fall short. Gualtieri decried what he saw as a “culture” of complacency and new urged laws and procedures to make officials more accountable.

Toward that end, the report endorsed a range of improvements. It found that Broward County’s regional communications system for law enforcement was outdated and “a threat to public and officer safety,” and urged local governments to “bridge the gaps.” It called for schools to use more real-world conditions during active shooter drills as a means of avoiding “drill fatigue.” The panel recommended that verbal threats against a school be made a felony, treating them the same as written threats. And it said the state should sanction school districts that fail to report on their progress in hardening school facilities.

The report also calls for the state to do a better job managing children as they pass through the mental health care system. It specifically cites the case of a 14-year-old from Pinellas County who had been taken in 35 times since the age of 8 under the state’s Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary mental health evaluation of someone deemed an immediate threat to themselves or others. “Florida’s mental health system is not adequately funded,” the panel found. But commissioners urged the state to be smarter in its spending, with greater attention to managing cases between school and non-school providers and an alert system to identify those repeatedly in Baker Act care.

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The commission has provided another thoughtful look at the challenges ahead. When it opens its annual 60-day session Jan. 14, the Florida Legislature needs to continue to make school security and mental health treatment top priorities.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.