Community, Education, Politics

Moving Ahead With School Safety

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Parkland residents have offered suggestions on how to keep the city’s Broward County Public Schools students safe in the wake of last February’s shooting that killed 17 people. Municipal officials have been aiding the school district through a process that has involved a town hall meeting and focus groups. Parkland officials hired an independent company Ft. Lauderdale-based Conceptual Communications, to conduct the process.

“We don’t want to do anything that would alter the integrity of the data,” city spokesman Todd DeAngelis said, adding that is why the city hired an independent entity to run the process. A total of 78 people participated in six focus groups on May 29, 31, and June 2.

DeAngelis said Conceptual Communications employees were to synthesize comments, suggestions, etc. emerging from the focus groups. Then, Conceptual Communications planned to hand the information over to the city, which would, in turn, provide to the school district with the information. DeAngelis said the city could receive a report on the focus groups as early as June 16. After city officials hand over the report to the school district, “that’s the end of the process from our standpoint,” DeAngelis said.

In mid-May, the city initiated a two-step process to gain resident input on school safety. The first process was a town hall experience. Parkland officials invited residents to participate in one of several ways. They could show up in person at Pine Trails Park to record a video message up to three minutes. It would outline “their suggestions on the topic of school safety related to Broward County Public Schools located in the City of Parkland or complete a digital survey on the same topic,” according to information from the city.

Residents unable to attend the May 14 town hall experience had the chance to complete a digital survey online, from May 11 through 15. DeAngelis said residents who participated in the town hall were asked if they’d be willing to partake in one or more focus groups through a randomly selected process. Information from the town hall would “serve to direct the focus group discussions,” the city spokesman said.

Nearly 80 people participated in the aforementioned six focus groups held at the end of May and in early June. Neither the town hall experience nor the focus groups were open to the media. DeAngelis said city officials decided that offering residents the chance to voice their opinions was the right thing to do.

“We just wanted to facilitate a process to ensure their voices are heard,” he said. The spokesman noted that school-age residents who live in Parkland attend Broward County Public Schools. Furthermore, their parents are “heavily invested in the schools,” he added. “If the voices of the residents of Parkland were absent, it would seem conspicuously so,” DeAngelis said. “The superintendent has indicated that he is looking forward to receiving the information,” he said, referring to Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

“Our community must find a way to learn and move forward from the tragedy that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” Runcie said in a prepared statement through a district spokesperson. “The town hall meeting and the focus groups offer a way for the Parkland community to come together, work together and hopefully, stay together to find answers and make change. We welcome this process and its potential for healing.”

The shooting at Stoneman Douglas spawned an impassioned response from not just local youth, but students nationwide. Local students marched in the area and in Washington D.C. advocated for stricter gun laws and restrictions, encouraged people to vote, spoke out on national television, met with President Trump and other high-ranking government officials and conducted protests.

March for Our Lives was a student-led demonstration in support of tighter gun control. The event took place on March 24 in Washington D.C. with more than 800 similar events throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Although several school shootings have taken place following the Feb. 14 massacre at Stoneman Douglas, youth are keeping up the fight. March for Our Lives is now a website with resources. (https://marchforourlives.com).

Its mission statement reads: “Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of an assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.”

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