One Year Safer: after the Parkland shooting, students, staff reflect on how school safety has changed within the district

On Feb. 14, 2018 in Parkland, Fla., gunman Nikolas Cruz stormed the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDH) opening fire with an AR-15 rifle. Cruz, a former student at MSDH, proceeded to go about the school shooting into classroom windows, with bullets hitting a total of 34 people. This school shooting claimed the lives of 17 innocent staff members and students, causing an uproar from cities everywhere regarding school safety. Now, one year later, much has changed at this school, and many ideas and plans are still in the works within the district.

“School safety is really important because without it so many bad things could happen,” Elizabeth “Lizzie” Carter, safety team member and junior said. “It’s so important to how the school functions because we have so many students.”

To improve school safety, Carter works with staff and students regularly as part of a student advisory group. According to Carter, it is very beneficial as it provides an exclusive student perspective on the building and student body’s safety.

Additionally, in December of 2018, the district launched an anonymous alert systems app called “Stop It.” This app contributes to the safety and well-being of each and every student in the district as it is a safe outlet to share safety concerns anonymously. With the communication mentality, this app is seen as a very important resource in our community.

“The biggest thing that has come out of Parkland in my mind is the potential that other people knew that this was going to happen prior to it happening. So this is why we are so adamantly telling everyone we want you to open up and say things when something isn’t right. The ultimate process is to help encourage our students to know that speaking up is what keeps our school safe. They have to be a part of the safety conversation,” School Resource Officer Sergeant DJ Schoeff said.

From the Parkland shooting, schools across America took into count more than just an active shooter in terms of school safety. According to Michael Beresford, superintendent of Carmel Clay Schools (CCS) and David Woodward, director of student services for CCS, school safety can be overlooked and is much more than what people think.

“I worked for the state these last 13 years in charge of school buildings and school safety and we lost big parts of four schools to tornados,” Woodward said. “That is something we can’t lose sight of. The anxiety is about an active shooter, but the reality is we need to be more focused on the fundamental, more-likely to happen things that could happen to us. We will not ignore active shooter, but we can’t forget about all of the other hazards.”

Woodward and Beresford agree upon the fact that there are many things that must be taken into account when working within a school district in terms of safety.

“Mental health is a big one. There is self-harm and goes as far as harming others and we want to make sure we establish a safe climate that is aimed towards the idea that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to reach out and I want our Carmel Clay Schools to be stigma free. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety or having bad thoughts, or know of a friend who is doing that, we want you to know what to do to get help,” Beresford said.

Due to Parkland’s severity, schools across the nation have reflected on the fact that this type of massacre could happen anywhere. As publicly stated, MSDH was considered to be in a very safe community, where this incident could never occur, until it did. With this in mind, school officials and community members have been more cautious and focused on the well-being and safety of their schools.

“A big thing that that came from the Parkland shooting was advocation,” Carter said. “The people that are advocating for it have really pushed for school safety because what happened was just unimaginably horrible and that could happen anywhere. There has definitely been has increased advocation from it.”

For Schoeff, he works everyday with other school and safety officials to ensure staff, students and other community members that the district is providing a safe environment for all that enter.

“We have assessed every building in the district,” Schoeff said. “Here at Carmel High School we assessed the number of doors that are unlocked in the morning, prior to school starting. With a school of this size and the number of students we have coming from different directions, there is a need for numerous doors to be unlocked. However, we did decrease that down significantly to a much smaller amount of doors. We also now have cameras in place that help us monitor that and review that as well.”

While school and safety officials make important, impactful decisions for the schools within the district, students have a very important role in keeping the district safe, too.

“We are working with Officer Schoeff and his school safety committee and when it was started we were talking about how we needed to get the students involved and get their perspective and he ran with that right away. Getting student’s perspective and feedback is very important,” Woodward said.

School safety has always been a major topic around the country, and Parkland has influenced this greatly within the past year. Ultimately, the health and well-being of students is the most important part.

According to Beresford, “School safety, to me, is a fundamental. If you don’t have a foundation where students feel safe in their environment, then education is going to struggle.”