Handling Threats, Mental Health, School Safety Law: The Stoneman Douglas Commission Meets In Sunrise

Jun 4, 2019

The state public safety commission that’s been investigating the 2018 Parkland school shooting is meeting in Sunrise Tuesday, the first of two days of meetings this month. On the agenda: mental health services in schools, how schools handle reported threats, and changing discipline programs.   

It’s part of the ongoing review of how school districts in Florida are implementing more security measures and improving their procedures, like increasing mental health services in schools and and adjusting how behavioral incidents get handled. The goal is to analyze more closely the events leading up to the Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead, 17 wounded and scars from the trauma on an entire community and region. 

Yet, the meeting couldn’t begin without the commission spending its traditional moment of silence that it normally spends to remember the Stoneman Douglas shooting victims - to also pause for the 12 victims of last week's mass shooting in Virginia.

“This morning let us remember the victims from the recent shooting last Friday in Virginia Beach,” Commission Chair, and Pinellas County sheriff, Bob Gualtieri said, leading the bowing of heads. 

This is the commission’s second meeting since it submitted a report on safety failures during the shooting at Stoneman Douglas. That first report includes recommendations on how to make schools physically safer, through through technology, arming staff, and other things.

The meeting was interrupted in the afternoon by breaking news in the FDLE investigation into the law enforcement response to the shooting, during a presentation about mental health services. Fmr. BSO Deputy  at Stoneman Douglas who was heavily criticized for inaction on the day of the shooting, was arrested and charged with several felonies. 

Read More: Ex-School Deputy Scot Peterson Arrested For Inaction During The Parkland School Shooting

A panel of school superintendents from Seminole, Sumter and St. Johns counties testified to the commission first-thing Tuesday morning, about flaws with how schools report incidents to the state, and how the program can be improved. 

Florida school districts must report major behavioral incidents, like student fights, to the the Florida Department of Education using a protocol called the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting, (SESIR). In previous meetings, the state commission found lack of consistency in how schools across the state report behavioral issues in SESIR. Some underreport, while others overreport, the number of incidents they have each year. 

"I think the looming question...is whether the nonreporting and the underreporting is intentional to conceal what is really happening on school campuses across Florida - or whether there's another reason for the misreporting, such as flaws in the system," Gulatieri said.

Read More: Stoneman Douglas Commission Reviews Safety Improvements At School Districts Across State

"We use data for everything for the state of Florida, but we're not using data well and to our advantage to make our schools safer, necessarily," Dr. Walt Griffin, Seminole County superintendent, said. He asked that a way to handle threats be somehow included in the SESIR system for reporting behavioral incidents. 

The Dept. of Education followed the testimony by assuring commissioners that a separate working group made up of district leaders has been formed, and will start meeting over the summer to look into how definitions in SESIR can be clarified and simplified. 

Broward County Public Schools also provided the commission with an update on its new threat assessment policy and software.

"We are in the process of implementing a digital, centralized, threat assessment system," Daniel Gohl, the chief academic officer for Broward Schools said. "And we will again be re-training all administrators and then all Threat Assessment Teams throughout the county for the 2019-2020 school year, with additional monitoring and accountability mechanisms."

That re-training is set to begin in July. 

Senate Bill 7030, recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, makes some of the commission's recommendations about threat assessments, like creating a standard across all school districts, state law. By August of 2020, the state will have to evaluate each district's compliance with the threat assessment guidelines that get created. 

"The consistent, validated threat assessment instrument is extremely important so that you have the right assessments being done, they're being done consistently - we know they're being done the right way," Gualtieri told commissioners while reviewing the new law.