A Debate Reloaded
April 25, 2018
Nobody expects danger to strike their school, but in the wake of tragedy, students nationwide are making themselves heard as they begin the fight for their lives.
Parkland, Florida is a wealthy enclave abutting other flourishing cities, such as Palm Beach, Coral Springs, and Boca Raton. More than 31,000 people reside within the city. Nearly 3,000 of them are students attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD), a high school with grades 9-12 in the Broward County district.
Nikolas Cruz, a nineteen-year-old former MSD student who was expelled for disciplinary issues, is accused of firing 160 rounds from an AR-15 and killing 17 MSD students and teachers on February 14, 2018.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas had fences, gates, on-campus resource officers, and emergency procedures. Although these fences and gates remained locked during most of the day, Cruz managed to find loopholes through each security measure.
As cited by NBC News and Scott Travis, a South Florida reporter, the gates to MSD open during the last few minutes of the school day in order to allow students, staff, and buses to get out easily. Cruz entered school grounds during this time, while the gates stood open ten minutes to the end of the day. Once on campus, a person has access to ten school buildings. These buildings stand unlocked to allow students to get to and from classes without trouble. A large number of students who had been studying the sky that day had class outside, making the buildings even easier to get into. The resource officer is thought to have been off campus at the time, as noted by news sources including CNN and Sun-Sentinel. Cruz pulled the fire alarm once inside in order to create confusion about the protocols that needed to follow.
In a fire drill, students throughout the entire building are required to evacuate the school. However, in a procedure known as “Code Red,” students and staff are required to stay in their classrooms. A Code Red situation is anything which involves immediate danger and requires protective action to be taken. Doors that should have been shut during a Code Red procedure were instead open due to the ongoing fire alarm.
The only person on the MSD campus trained and armed to fight was the singular school resource officer, who was a sheriff of Broward. Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association, says he likely was not on campus at the time of the shooting. It is unknown where he was. Broward County sheriff’s office and the school district “each failed to respond to requests for comment on where the officer may have been.”
Palm Beach County students marched with Broward County students in support on March 14—one month after the Parkland shooting.
In the aftermath of tragedy, students have been left wondering what their own school has done to keep students safe.
According to Waukee High School principal Cary Justmann, there is “no question” about whether or not Waukee is changing. In an interview conducted only a month after Parkland, Justmann said, “[Waukee has] some training that’s already scheduled, but more than anything else this is just ongoing learning. We try to ask the tough questions, and we’re trying to determine how to get that safety to students. We want everyone to feel like they’re safe here.”
The Waukee Community School District is working to train staff for the event of an active shooter in the school. The training includes preparing the staff for multiple scenarios, giving teachers options and preparation for the unexpected. Through the work of the city of Waukee, the fire department, and the police department, and several other entities, efforts are being made to collaborate in any way possible in order to keep everybody safe.
The secure entrances to the school are specifically designed to keep out external threats, but internal threats to the district are harder to manage. An external threat is an attacker from outside of the school building, while an internal threat would come from a student or staff member. Justmann pointed out that WHS focuses on the relationships with students in order to get to know them as much as possible, in hopes of being able to notice changes in behavior or state of mind. “It’s like in Columbine twenty years ago,” Justmann said. “Those people wouldn’t have been blocked from entering because they’re students.”
As potential dangers have come to light more and more, students have begun to question why they are not allowed to view the safety plans.
Waukee’s Code Red plan is not necessarily a secret from students, but is generally meant to be kept among staff in the interest of student safety. Waukee staff hopes that keeping the plan contained will stop it from being taken advantage of in the event of an internal threat.
“It’s always changing because we don’t want to be predictable, and we want to keep people more protected. It’s absolutely not to keep anybody in the dark,” Justmann explained, before giving an example. “If everybody at Waukee were to go to Prairieview after a bomb threat, and then we shared that information, then the attacker may put it in Prairieview instead… I know there’s always a level of frustrations when there are people getting hurt. We hear about these frustrations a lot. School is a big part of our lives, and we just want to know that we’re safe. We always want to be thinking critically about how we can be getting better. If we were confident in our policy then we would be in trouble. We always need to improve.”
Nobody expects a tragedy to occur in their school, but it is always important to be prepared for potentially dangerous situations. Students of all ages should stay informed and stay practical. There is always room for improvement within school districts, and now is the best time for students to advocate for their safety.
“We know that our kids can be so great, so we have to provide a platform for them to grow up and be excellent.”