(TNS) — Florida students would be subjected to fewer active shooter drills, under a recommendation by a commission investigating school safety in the wake of the Parkland tragedy.
In response to complaints from students and teachers that emergency drills — now required monthly — are traumatizing students, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission agreed to recommend they be reduced to six a year.
The change is one of a number of recommendations the commission plans to submit to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Legislature in its second annual report.
Commission members started finalizing the report Tuesday at a meeting at the Omni Orlando Resort in Champions Gate and plan to conclude Wednesday.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is chairman of the commission, said the recommendation in no way suggests the Legislature erred when it required monthly drills starting in 2018.
He said many school districts were reluctant to conduct active shooter drills on a regular basis until the law passed. He said they are crucial to make sure schools are prepared and to avoid the chaos at Stoneman Douglas, where school staff were unprepared.
“I firmly believe what we have done was the right thing and was effective in getting us to a certain place,” Gualtieri said. “Now that we’re at a certain place, like anything, there’s room to back off some.’
The commission recommended that drills vary in nature, using different scenarios and not just be a presentation that people passively watch. Law enforcement should be involved in every drill, the commission recommends.
School districts should include “all necessary aspects of the drill and emergency operations plan, including panic buttons, simulated communications with first responders, notification to parents of the drill, student/faculty movement, turning lights off, covering windows, etc.,” the draft report says.
But the commission chose not to take a stance on one potentially controversial idea — teaching students and parents how to physically take down an attacker. Commission member Max Schachter, whose son Alex died at Stoneman Douglas, said he thinks such training is important.
“During the last two school shootings, the shooter was able to get inside the classroom with a gun,” Schachter said. “Law enforcement will not arrive in time. Empowering students to defend themselves so they are not victims will save lives.”
But Gualtieri said the idea “wouldn’t fly with parent and teacher groups” who would perceive it as teaching kids to fight.
Other recommendations from the draft report include:
Further research on the best way to manage students who have been identified as threats. This includes what resources will be needed to manage them and how this management will be transferred when the student ages out of the school system.
Every law enforcement agency should have a mass casualty death notification and reunification policy, after complaints from Parkland victims that the Broward Sheriff’s Office was slow to give them information and provided no privacy.
In response to the slow progress in Broward at installing communication towers, those involved should “put aside their personal animosity and fulfill their obligations to the citizens of Broward County to provide effective, efficient and safe radio and 911 communications.”
The Legislature should change the law regarding armed guardians to “make it unequivocally clear that only Florida sheriffs may conduct the guardian training.” This comes in response to a botched effort by Palm Beach County schools to contract with a private company to train armed security in charter schools.
The state should standardize reporting of school crime and incident data to avoid the discretion that has led to many schools under-reporting incidents and some to over-report.
All pre-arrest diversion programs, including Broward schools’ Promise program, should follow the same rules as county civil citation programs run by the State Attorney’s Office. That includes entering incidents into a database for other law enforcement to access. The tentative recommendation, which could change Wednesday, stops short of calling for an end to Promise, as commission members discussed this summer.
The Legislature should increase mental health funding and but also require agencies receiving funds to provide data to prove the money is going to good use.
Staff writers Megan O’Matz and Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.
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