Debate continues over best response to Parkland killings

Students, faculty and staff are expected to begin the long journey back toward normalcy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this week in Parkland.

But, the debate over the best response to the Valentine Day’s slaying of 14 students and three teachers remains embroiled in controversy.

Audience members bow their heads as a prayer is given for the 17 students of Parkland Florida and local student, Christian Robinson, who were killed due to gun violence. (Randy Underhill)

In the aftermath of the shooting spree, conducted by a lone gunman using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, thousands of angry students descended on Tallahassee demanding that lawmakers take action, to prevent a future tragedy.

There was a lie-in in Washington D.C., walkouts at schools across Florida and almost nonstop coverage of the issues on cable television networks.

Student survivors of the massacre have led the charge in demanding action from lawmakers.

Some are demanding a ban on the sale of AR-15s, which so far does not appear to be making headway.

President Donald R. Trump met with parents of school shooting victims and with student survivors for a listening session.

And, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have developed school safety proposals.

The specifics are expected to be fiercely debated, but Scott and legislative leaders expect school safety legislation to be passed before the session ends, which is scheduled for March 9.

At the local level, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis met in a school safety workshop session with Pasco County School Board members and school district staff.

Nicholas Ketterer, age 15, and Ethan Laws, age 15, both students at Sunlake High School, react to what is being read at the candlelight vigil for the students killed in Parkland, Florida and Port Richey.

Bilirakis asked the district to weigh in on what’s needed to improve school safety and how Washington can help.

“We’re going to have congressional hearings on this issue, the safe school issue. I wanted to hear from our school board,” Bilirakis said.

Assistant Superintendent Betsy Kuhn said the district needs more funding to pay for additional school resource officers, to improve mental health services and to upgrade safety features on school campuses.

Pasco County School Board member Allen Altman concurred that those seem to be the three things at the top of the list, based on conversations he had during visits to nine schools over the course of three days, following the killings in Parkland.

School board member Alison Crumbley said there needs to be “extremely limited access” to military-style weapons.

“I am very concerned that a 19-year-old can purchase military-style weaponry, and has no training for this weaponry. We require training and licensing to drive a car, but not this. I think that’s a huge problem,” she said.

But, Crumbley also made it clear that she supports the 2nd Amendment: “My husband is a sportsman. He hunts. I’m not talking about those types of weapons, or guns.”

She’s against the idea of arming teachers, a suggestion that has been made by some.

Karen Hoffman, of Lutz, sits by herself, silently grieving 17 students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and local student Christian Robinson, of Chasco Middle School, recently killed in Florida due to gun violence.

“I don’t want that responsibility put on our teachers,” Crumbley said.

Another part of the problem is distinguishing real threats from false information.

Pasco County Sheriff’s Lt. Troy Ferguson told those gathered: “Since Feb. 14, tips are coming in by the hour about suspicious activities, conversations heard online.

“Often, it’s been repeats of stories heard on the news that have been misconstrued as a threat in Pasco County,” he said.

Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said the district has been swamped with calls and emails since the tragedy in Parkland. Some of the emails have been about threats, others with suggestions to help solve the problem, he said.

Social media exacerbates the problem of false information, Browning said.

“Kids are being reckless on social media,” he said.

“I don’t know how many times they have posted something stupid out on social media and then, when the sheriff’s office shows up at their door, it’s ‘Oh, I was only joking.’ Well, guess what, it is too late,” Browning said.

Browning urged parents to pay attention to what their children are doing on social media.

“There’s consequences. We’re talking about a second-degree felony. Kids don’t get it,” he said.

In the wake of the Parkland deaths, Browning has requested and has received regular patrols from the Sheriff’s Office at all district schools. He also has directed all principals to keep all gates locked and has directed teachers to keep all classroom doors locked.

Browning urges principals, students and staff to maintain a high vigilance regarding who is on their school’s campus.

After listening to the suggestions, Bilirakis said additional funding for school resource officers seems like a “no-brainer.” He also pledges to work on the possibility of seeking a federal grant to improve mental health care services.

To help promote healing in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings, the Pasco County Council PTA held three candlelight vigils across Pasco County.

Brandon Bracciale, principal at Chasco Middle School, attended the one at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex.

While the Parkland community was grieving the deaths of 17 people, Chasco Middle has been grieving the loss of Christian Robinson, a 14-year-old who has died, after a gunshot wound to the head on Valentine’s Day. He was in a car in Port Richey when he was shot.

“He was a very popular student,” Bracciale said.

Bracciale said the Parkland slayings have had a local impact.

He said his wife, an art teacher at Sunlake High School, noticed that her students were somber in the days following the Parkland deaths.

And, his middle school daughter, who attends Rushe Middle School, plans to participate in a nationwide school walkout, set for March 14.

As an educator, he believes that bulletproof windows and doors would help make schools safer. He also believes that restricting access to assault weapons and improved mental health care would help.

Victims of the Valentine’s Day shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque Anguiana, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Chris Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 15; Gina Montalto, 15; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsey, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Peter Wang, 15

Source: CNN

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