SPLC: Florida Legislature should reject proposals in Parkland commission report that would threaten school safety and undermine student privacy

The Florida Legislature should reject the harmful recommendations in a report from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission that would threaten, not improve, school safety.

The report’s recommendations were developed in response to the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, that killed 17 students and staff members.

The commission’s proposals include placing guns into the hands of inadequately trained staff, reducing evidence-based supports such as diversion programs for struggling students, and use of cameras on young children and other proposals that would violate student privacy.

The report does offer some recommendations that are supported by evidence – such as training school staff and students in emergency preparedness, and providing in-school mental health services, both to increase collaboration between child-serving systems and to ensure continuity of mental health care for youth and families year-round.

Those evidence-based recommendations in the report build on longstanding research and programs promoted by experts ranging from the American Psychological Association to federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Secret Service.

However, taken as a whole, the commission’s proposals would make Florida schools less safe – not safer. 

Florida cannot afford to spend precious taxpayer dollars on evidence-free and expensive initiatives like more guns and armed civilians. Our state’s already limited funds for education should instead be spent responsibly on interventions that have been proven to work and that won’t further undermine school safety.

What’s more, although the commission’s proposals create unnecessary risks for all students, that risk is especially acute for students of color and students with disabilities, as research shows that these students’ ordinary adolescent misbehavior is more likely to be misinterpreted as dangerous. If these recommendations are implemented, what could have once merited a trip to the principal’s office could now result in deadly force.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission was established during the 2018 Florida legislative session. The commission was formed to analyze information from the Parkland school shooting and other incidents of mass violence in the state, and make recommendations on how to improve school safety.

Yet rather than improving school safety, many of the commission’s recommendations – such as arming inadequately trained school personnel with guns – are problematic.

Those who support arming teachers and putting other armed staff in our schools have not and cannot point to any evidence that this is an effective means to stop school shootings. Meanwhile, comprehensive mental health services, positive approaches to addressing misbehavior, and hiring unarmed school personnel who are trained to undertake safety functions are among the school safety strategies that have been shown to create welcoming, healthy and safe environments for all students.

Additionally, we are shocked to see proposals that so severely undermine student privacy rights. The commission’s recommendations range from providing police with real-time access cameras trained on children as young as five years old to allowing mass collection of children’s social media information.

Not only do these proposals have federal constitutional implications, but, as importantly, families will have no way to avoid this kind of surveillance state, if they want to send their children to school. What’s more, there is no clear evidence that, even if they were legally permissible, these measures would work to prevent future violence. The commission is proposing to trade children’s rights for nothing more than security theater, a trade that will most severely impact our state’s most vulnerable children.

Last year, the SPLC challenged a Florida school district in court that – in response to the Parkland shooting – placed guns in the hands of inadequately trained civilians in schools.

We filed our November 2018 lawsuit against the Duval County Public Schools and the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville, Florida. The lawsuit challenges a program in which armed “school safety assistants” (SSAs) with minimal training – and who are not law enforcement officers – are hired to carry concealed weapons in Duval County elementary schools.

We argue in the lawsuit that armed SSAs will not make schools safer, but will put students at risk of potential danger and trauma – especially students of color and students with disabilities. 

Further, our lawsuit points out that Florida law makes it illegal for people to carry firearms on school property, unless they are law enforcement officers.

The commission’s report recommends expanding this dangerous program and implementing other unproven proposals.

The Florida Legislature has a responsibility to adopt evidence-based interventions that will actually make Florida’s schools safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for all children.

Photo by Brynn Anderson/Associated Press