Local schools review, strengthen safety measures after Florida tragedy
Following one of the ten deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history at Florida high school last week, students and teachers across the country are questioning the safety of their schools.
After a shooter killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkdale, Florida on Feb. 14, local schools in the greater Philadelphia area have begun to reassess and tighten security procedures, including doubling down on training in case of a shooting incident or similar emergency for staff, students, first responders, and law enforcement.
Two events reported in the days immediately following the Florida shooting highlighted the fear for local schools of a violent incident occurring closer to home. On Feb. 15, one day after the Florida shootings, a student in the South Jersey high school Eastern Regional was arrested when he allegedly threatened to “shoot up the school,” according to an article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The student was not found to be in possession of weapons, and currently charges of second-degree false public alarm and third-degree terroristic threats, according to the article.
Just two days after the massacre in Florida, Wagner Middle School in Philadelphia was placed on lockdown when a student reported to school administrators that they thought they had seen another student in possession of a gun. After a thorough search, officers discovered the object in question was a toy gun a student had brought to school.
Other than the increased vigilance championed by schools in cases such as these, with administrators emphasizing the need to report suspicious behavior and take immediate action, school administrators and staff are still grappling with the question of what are the best policies to prevent or, at the worst, prepare for a possible active shooter on school grounds.
For Marisa Porges, head of school at the Baldwin School, an all girls’ independent school in the area, the answer is increased security and attention to students’ mental health. She wrote in an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer following the shooting that her school has taken security measures seriously, and has invested in the resources and training necessary to protect the school and facilitate emergency response if a shooting were to occur.
“At my school, we introduced a range of technical and manual oversight systems to safeguard our students, including swipe access into buildings, cameras at entrances, and an unarmed guard who roams school grounds to ensure unusual activity does not go unnoticed. Every year we invest in new technology and update our emergency response procedures, and do regular drills to ensure the girls and our staff grow comfortable with how to respond in extremis situations. The key is to ensure school feels like a second home to our students, even as additional safety and security mechanisms are introduced.”
Porges, who is also a former naval flight officer in the U.S. Navy, emphasized that preventative emotional support for students is also key in identifying students who may be struggling with mental health issues and violent tendencies.
“This whole-system approach supports our students’ mental health development and improves overall school climate, underlying factors that can lead to school violence,” Porges wrote.
Porges and other school administrators nationwide who are addressing their schools’ security in the aftermath of the Florida school shootings have acknowledged that these are strategies and policies that schools must follow and implement given the reality of the lack of gun control in the U.S. — a status quo that many students are now trying to change.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived last week’s shooting and lost friends and classmates in the rampage are calling for congressional action on gun control. Many have joined other students across the country in a movement to demand immediate legislation on guns, with a demonstration called March for Our Lives set to take place in Washington, D.C. on March 24.
CNN is also planning to host and televise a town hall on Wednesday led by students who survived the shooting and parents that were affected, titled "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action.” Lawmakers that have so far accepted an invitation to attend the town hall include Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Trump both declined the invitation to speak to the students and parents, with Gov. Scott citing his duties in state legislative sessions in Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, many politicians such as Vice President Mike Pence have suggested that the political response to the tragedy focus on increased preventative support for mental illness, as well as safety and security procedures in schools, rather than gun control legislation.
There have been 17 school shootings so far this year, according to a study conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety. The activist group defines a school shooting as any time a gun has gone off on school grounds while school was in session. One of the 17 school shootings recorded by the group occurred locally; a 32-year-old man was shot and killed outside of Lincoln High School in Philadelphia in what was described as a fight during a basketball game.