More mental health support among Stand With Parkland's legislative priorities ahead of 2022
People who lost their family members in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continue their activism in a lot of different ways. Many have different views more than three and a half years after the tragedy.
One way they come together is through the organization they started called: Stand With Parkland — The National Association Of Families For Safe Schools. The group does a lot of legislative work to try to make schools more secure.
WLRN is committed to providing South Florida with trusted news and information. As the pandemic continues, our mission is as vital as ever. Your support makes it possible. Please donate today. Thank you.
Tony Montalto is president of the organization. He lost his daughter, Gina, in the shooting. Debbi Hixon is a board member, in addition to being a Broward County School Board member. She lost her husband, Chris, in the shooting. And Ryan Petty is also a board member, in addition to his role on the statewide commission that makes school safety recommendations. He lost his daughter, Alaina, in the tragedy.
WLRN recently spoke with them together about how they work with lawmakers and what comes next for school safety in Florida.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
WLRN: Last year, the school safety bill SB 590 passed and became law. Montalto starts us off explaining what the Parents Need To Know Initiative is, in the law.
MONTALTO: Sadly, our families had no warning that there was a threat, a known threat to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School here in Parkland. Schools are now required to notify parents for threats to, or on, the school grounds to threats that might occur on school transportation or to threats that might occur during school sponsored events. It's very important that parents have the warning and the information so they can make the proper choice on how to protect their children.
Debbi Hixon, what are the legislative priorities for Stand With Parkland looking at the 2022 legislative session?
HIXON: A huge one, I think for all of us because of the situation we were in, was a reunification plan that every district has to have in place, that if whatever kind of tragedy or incident may happen, that they're able to get the students safely back to their parents and stuff safely back to their families.
As we were talking about the idea that schools need to make sure they're reporting accurately their behavior issues and threat assessments and things of that nature — if it's found that the districts are not accurately reporting, or not reporting, that there's some kind of monetary consequence for them not complying with the requirements.
"School safety and emergency incidents. Parents of public school students have a right to timely notification of threats, unlawful acts, and significant emergencies"Language from SB 590
Some of the things that didn't get passed in this past legislative session that we would like to push for this year: [A] mental health coordinator, for lack of a better term. Someone that's going to be able to make sure that the services that a student that's being looked at under a threat assessment, that they're actually getting those services and that it's helping, right? [The confessed shooter] was getting services but it wasn't effective so we need a better plan for that. If a student is receiving mental health services, we would like for the families to also be given information.
Tony, the statewide Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission has been working to make recommendations to improve school safety. Your organization, Stand With Parkland, gives input to that commission.
MONTALTO: They make the recommendations, but it's the idea of working with our legislative partners and our elected officials to get those things into law, that it's something that is important and it does require — not just reports that are written and published but — a lot of face to face time to show why it's important.
We can sadly make many connections to the Stoneman Douglas recommendations. Straight back to the failures that occurred that led to the tragedy that took the 17 lives of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And it's important to make those personal connections with legislatures.
Ryan Petty — You have a seat on the statewide safety commission and you’re involved with Stand with Parkland. How does that dynamic work?
PETTY: Legislators look to Stand with Parkland to help them prioritize. There's so much you could do, so much so many things they could take up. They come to us. They come to stand with Parkland and they say, "What? What's the priority here? What are the things that we know will prevent these school attacks?"
We're not the first set of families that have experienced this kind of a tragedy, but we wanted to be the last.Ryan Petty
And by the way, when we prevent these school attacks, some of the same tools and mechanisms that we're promoting to prevent the next Parkland, are also things that help just with school culture and and reducing violence in our schools.
What may start out as disruption in a classroom — bringing a weapon to school or something like that — you can intervene in that case and you can prevent maybe future violence. But you have all this secondary effect of of just kids feeling safer at school and when kids feel safer at school, they learn.
School safety and campuses have changed a lot because of the pandemic. Has Stand With Parkland changed or broadened its approach to addressing school safety issues?
PETTY: We're not the first set of families that have experienced this kind of a tragedy, but we wanted to be the last.
We've got a threefold mission: Enhancing school safety, mental health screening and support programs and responsible firearm ownership.
So when I think about COVID and all the other things where we're facing right now, we get together as a group. We meet, we talk about it, and we measure it against those three pillars.
Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.