In the year since their daughters were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018, Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty have taken on public roles.
Alyssa Alhadeff and Alaina Petty were both 14-year-old freshmen, and were among the 17 people killed inside Building 12 at the school.
Alhadeff is now an elected member of the Broward County school board. Petty serves on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. They are focused on honoring their daughters by improving school safety and holding those in power accountable.
They've also continued to deal with the tragedy privately.
Petty met with the school resource officers stationed in Parkland and asked them an emotional question: "There may be a day where you have to decide whether you go home to your kids, or those kids in that classroom go home to their families. Are you willing to make the decision?"
And Lori Alhadeff bought bulletproof backpacks for her middle school sons so that "if all else fails, they would be able to use that backpack to protect their vital organs and save their lives."
In the year since the shooting, the Florida Legislature passed a new state law, a state investigative commission produced a list of recommendations, and schools have spent tens of millions of dollars on security.
Alhadeff and Petty are in the middle of the investigation, response and debate over school security, safety and guns. WLRN News spoke with them about what’s been done in the past year and what more they’d like to do.
WLRN: Are schools safer?
Alhadeff: They are absolutely safer than they were since 2/14, but we have a long way to go.
Petty: I'm still concerned. I'd like to be as optimistic as Lori. From the evidence I've seen thus far from the MSD Commission and the lack of action, particularly at ground zero in Broward County where this happened, I'm not comfortable that, if, heaven forbid, somebody walked in with a gun into a school in Broward County we wouldn't be facing a similar tragedy.
What more needs to be done?
Petty: What we saw at MSD, tragically, was a failure to train students and teachers and staff on how to properly address an active shooter threat. The sheriff's office was woefully trained to respond, and so we saw that in the response that day. It's really about implementation.
Alhadeff: We need to train, train, train, train throughout the entire district. Then we need to hold people accountable for knowing that information, but also being able to perform in a fight-or-flight situation.
What role is the school board playing in accountability?
Alhadeff: As a school board, we will be looking at how we can change different policies and procedures or job descriptions and what (people) are supposed to be doing. One example is the school monitor. The monitor's job description is to see something and report it. They need to have more of a job description than what they currently have.
Petty: Job descriptions are the first step. What comes after that has to be clear procedures that are defined. The security monitor, as an example, should have a clear job description, should have clear roles and responsibilities and (the monitor) should be trained in those functions.
Does the school district have the financial resources to enact the kind of safety precautions you would like?
Alhadeff: Right after the tragedy, the school district allocated $30 million toward school safety, hardening and changes. However, we need a lot more money. We need help. We need money from the state to help implement more of these school safety hardening changes that we want to put throughout the entire district.
We need to make school safety a top priority. I know we need money to make things happen, but I don't want money to be the excuse. It's our job to make sure that we send our kids to school that our schools are safe and that they come home alive.
Petty: Money can't be the excuse. To have a a good learning environment for our students, they have to feel safe. For our teachers to do what they love to do, they have to feel safe. If a district needs to take a look at its priorities and say, 'We're trying to fund too many things, and we're going to have to step back from a few things so that we can ... keep our our students and our teachers and staff safe at school,' then they're going to have to do that.
Do you support allowing teachers to be armed after undergoing training?
Alhadeff: No, I do not think teachers should have guns at school. I think teachers went to school to teach, and that is their expertise. I think that we should arm law enforcement with guns. That is their expertise.
Petty: My position has evolved over time as I've looked at the evidence that was presented on the commission. One of my fellow commissioners, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, said: when seconds count, minutes don't matter. The point he was trying to make with that (was) the sooner you can stop the bad guy with a gun on campus, the more lives we're going to save.
How would you characterize Superintendent Robert Runcie's leadership since Feb. 14, 2018?
Alhadeff: His leadership has been poor. He has not stepped up and and truly been accountable for the mistakes that led up to 2/14.
Petty: In one word, he's been ineffective. His efforts have been entirely focused on controlling a narrative as opposed to an inward look at what went wrong, why did it go wrong, and what can we do to change that.
EDITOR'S NOTE: WLRN News will be interviewing Superintendent Runcie this week.
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