Is Your Child Safe at School: What Did Parents Learn from the Parkland Massacre?

Is Your Child Safe at School: What Did Parents Learn from the Parkland Massacre?

Is Your Child Safe at School: What Did Parents Learn from the Parkland Massacre? 

By

James L. Casale

The recent interview in the Wall Street Journal with Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack, who was murdered by a psychopath at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day in 2018, is must reading for every parent who has a child in any type of school, from pre-school to college.*

The facts surrounding the horrific event that killed 17 people, 14 students and three adults, reveals the ignorance, negligence, incompetence, stupidity, and cowardice of those we entrust with the safety of our children. In this case, it was the police officers who would not enter the building, the sheriff’s deputies who were well acquainted with the killer, and the school district officials who, for want of federal dollars, bought into the Obama administration’s foolhardy program called Promise (Preventing Recidivism through Mentoring, Interventions, Support, and Education), a politically correct attempt to protect all types of miscreants and lawbreakers on school campuses and spare them a police record. When the federal government waves dollars in front of school districts, the districts usually take the money without scrutinizing the details and/or repercussions.

If parents don’t wake up, smell the gunfire, and accept their sacred responsibility to protect their children and hold accountable those they think have their children’s best interests at heart, this will surely happen again. Parents must be proactive and should not rely on others.

Three Strategies

First, obtain accurate information, starting with copies of all the safety and security policies and protocols of the institution your child is attending. If you have concerns, don’t limit yourself to the principal’s office or whoever is in charge of the campus. The BOE, via the superintendent, determines school policies. They are more culpable than the principal if updated policies are not in place. There is an enormous amount of solid information on the internet. Start with NCES (National Center for Education Statistics).

Second, as an individual or with a group of like-minded parents, do your homework and compare what is going on in your school to the “best practices” statewide and nationally. Keep written records and official documents of your search and prepare questions ahead of time before any meetings are scheduled.

Third, collaborate with those who work for you and are paid with your tax dollars. Meet with school staff and local police and fire departments to make sure the school district protocols and procedures reflect the best practices.  If possible, join safety committees and make your voice heard.

There are no guarantees that anyone is ever safe from a deranged psychopath, bully, thief, or predator, but you do have control over what is in place to best protect your child.

Flashback to the Mid-Eighties

When I became the principal of Purchase School in Harrison, New York, in 1984, I was immediately besieged by faculty and staff about the number of strangers wandering the halls of our school looking for the main office and seeking directions for local addresses. Our school’s large parking lot on the corner of two busy streets was easily accessed by anyone, including the drivers of large commercial trucks, to stop and ask for directions. I was determined to put an end to our school’s AAA service.

Though school shootings like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland were still yet to come and school violence in a quiet suburb in 1984 was unthinkable, protecting students and staff was always the top priority.

My first response was to secure all entry points after the children entered the building and maintain only one during the school day. Signs were installed to direct visitors to the only point of entry. My next step was to install a system that required visitors to buzz in and state their name and business before they were allowed to enter and report to the main office. I also wanted a camera installed for visual identification, but this was denied by the superintendent. If you were merely looking for directions, no entry was provided, and we tried to accommodate the person through the intercom.

This system might have been groundbreaking at the time. All the schools in our district soon followed suit, but by today’s standards, it was only a baby step in the right direction. According to a recent study, more people have died in mass school shootings in the United States in the past 18 years than during the entire 20th century.

Current Safety Examples

 In early January, 2019, I visited four local high schools to deliver college scholarship applications courtesy of the Sons and Daughters of Italy Lodge in Tequesta, Florida. At one school, I had to pass through an attended gate and show my ID, which the attendant made a copy of. Then I was allowed to park and enter the campus. At the second school, I was met by a security guard in a golf cart. He asked me about the purpose of my visit before allowing me to park and enter the campus at the main office. The last two schools had similar precautions. I was able to park my vehicle and approach the main office without being accosted. Both campuses had tall chain-link fences at the entrance preventing anyone from entering the student section without passing through the main office. In all four locations, not being acquainted with the layout, I would not have been able to tell if other access points were secure. Which of these examples appears safest to you?

Parent Report Card

How much responsibility do parents inherit in order to keep their kids safe and secure? The only environment parents can fully control is their own home. When students have access to other places such as outdoor areas in the neighborhood, other kids’ homes, parks, malls, recreation centers, shopping areas, and schools, parents must remain diligent by learning about and assessing the risks of each venue. Have you noticed those street signs, with accompanying graphics, posted in local neighborhoods that warn drivers to “Drive like your kids live here” or “Slow Down”? These parents have concerns and have taken action.

Parents must always be alert to potential danger wherever their children roam. But that is not sufficient. Get smart. Become proactive. Work cooperatively with likeminded people and local authorities. Don’t be shy. Nothing trumps the health, safety, and security of your child. Never let the schools or any organization that assumes responsibility for your child off the hook. You are accountable, and so are they.

*You can read the full interview here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-parkland-fathers-quest-for-accountability-11547249451

Dr. Casale is both a state and national award-winning educator, speaker, and the author of two highly praised parenting books. The third book in his Common Sense Parenting trilogy will be released later this year. His website is www.commonsenseparenthood.com.

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