Earlier this month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1421a bill that is the next step on the long and important road to safer schools.
“Every child needs a safe and secure learning environment,” he said in a statement on June 7. .”
The bill, which was signed into law just days after the second deadliest school shooting in the United States since 2012, aims to promote increased safety measures before, during and after such tragedies occur.
New legislation aims to prevent mass casualty events by emphasizing mental health awareness, increased training from local security and law enforcement, and pre-determined action plans for reunification and communication with parents.
The changes are part of a nearly five-year effort to strengthen school safety sparked by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting in Parkland that killed 17 students and teachers in 2018.
”We have to have a layered approach. Security is a multi-layered issue,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand With Parkland and father of Gina Montalto, who was killed in the MSD shooting. “Some years we have passed larger bills, others smaller bills.”
Since the Florida tragedy, notable laws such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, SB 7030, Alyssa’s Law, SB 590, and HB 899 have all been passed in Florida.
Each of these bills plays a vital role in building safer school systems throughout Florida. These pieces of legislation target issues such as the right of teachers to carry firearms in school, the duty of law enforcement to respond quickly, the responsibility of schools to report threats, and the need for attention to mental health, respectively.
“It’s been a long litany, a long process,” Montalto said.
The most recent bill in this effort, HB 1421, stands out for its commitment to simultaneously target three distinct issues in different areas of school safety.
“It’s important to remember that these aren’t either-or decisions,” Montalto said. ”These are all cumulative effects – there is no single solution.”
With regard to the mental health component, this bill requires that 80% of school staff receive mental health awareness training in order to better equip them to meet the needs of students.
In addition, HB 1421 requires that school security guards have received crisis intervention training and be authorized to make on-the-spot arrests if necessary. This ensures that, if and when an emergency occurs, security can maximize its prevention efforts before law enforcement even arrives.
The bill also requires local law enforcement to attend active fire drills with students and faculty.
The final aspect of the bill, which requires pre-established reunification plans, is what Montalto describes as “a very important element for [his] family.”
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“Many of our families were informed of the death of our children late in the evening, he said. “We could hear the screams and the cries of the other families. Some of us have been separated from our support groups and heard this devastating news.”
“Having a plan in place, something to help guide our first responders through this incredibly difficult time, is vital,” Montalto continued.
In response to these additional safety measures, Miami-Dade County Public Schools is working to assure parents that small changes will be needed, stating that “many principles set out in the bill are in place and are already enforced by the district.”
The county adds that they are equipped with mental health services which can all be found here.
They also declared their commitment to safety, reminding parents that law enforcement operates in every district school and provides surveillance during all school hours. School security follows specific training to better understand the needs of the students it serves.
As Montalto explains, the bill and others like it are prime examples of “Republicans and Democrats working together.”
“What we’ve seen too often is after the school shootings, in particular, we let the conversation escalate into a Second Amendment,” he said. “This is not a Second Amendment issue. This is a public safety issue.”
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At a time when political conversation is often divisive and hostile, he applauds the state for its ability to come together for such an important cause in the wake of tragedy.
“A person’s right to own a gun should not replace a child’s right to come home from school or a teacher’s right to come home,” Montalto continued. “Therefore, we must find ways to work together to resolve.”
Even still, some members of the community such as Miami-Dade County Public School teacher Natassia Loth are speaking out against additional measures like these – an expression of investment in the cause that Montalto wishes see more.
“As a teacher, I’m really sad that we have to go through things like this,” she wrote on Facebook. “We have all these measures being forced on us for all kinds of things, and I think if we got to REALLY TEACH, we could understand the things that our students really need.”
In the wake of more frequent passage of safe school bills like this, Montalto encourages the community to become more involved in such conversations and speak their minds as Lot did. through facebook.
“We need people, and parents in particular, to be involved,” he said. “Do you want your school district to respond? Be an involved parent. Take a look at safety and hold them accountable.”
Only then, he says, will true change be accomplished.
“We need the opportunity to have those of us who can look at the myriad of school safety issues and come up with sensible solutions,” Montalto said. “These are those of us who come together as one American family to address the need to keep our students and teachers safe at school. What could be more important to our communities?”