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Parkland Shooting Victims' Families: School Board Is Weak on Safety

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Families whose loved ones were killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting called for changes in the school district's leadership Thursday, urging voters to elect new members to the Broward County school board to help the district heal.

Though victims' parents have said the district should replace Superintendent Robert Runcie, the families stopped short of collectively calling for him to be replaced.

"After this tragedy, members of our group and the entire MSD community have attempted to work with the school board and the superintendent in order to make things better. We have focused on issues, but the school board has not provided answers," said Tony Montalto, whose Gina was killed, said at a press conference. "So today, we would like to make the citizens of Broward County aware that the current school board has failed to properly prepare the county's 234 schools for the upcoming school year, which begins next week. The constant reversals of policy positions continue to leave our county's students and teachers at risk and clearly show there is no unified plan to keep them safe."

Current school board members haven't moved swiftly enough to address safety concerns after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the families said. Among the candidates to replace them are two parents whose children died—Ryan Petty and Lori Alhadeff. The board has nine members, and there are five races on the ballot.

A chief concern among the families is the district's recent decision to suspend an outside review by a retired Secret Service agent of its security procedures on the day of the shooting. District leaders said when they made that decision they feared the agent's work would duplicate that of a state task force that is also investigating the shooting. Some teachers had said participating in two investigations would be emotionally burdensome for those who survived the shooting.

The victims' families have previously questioned whether the security staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas were adequately trained, why gates were open so the gunman could so easily access the 13-building campus, and why security cameras were running on a delay, complicating law enforcement response. They've expressed outrage that a sheriff's deputy assigned to the campus didn't enter the building during the shooting, instead staying outside. Some have also complained that school board members and district officials did not contact them after their children died.

The families also questioned Wednesday why the school board has backtracked on several decisions: including plans to pilot metal detectors in Stoneman Douglas and an initial resistance to hiring armed guards.

A new school safety law in Florida, passed after the shooting and supported by the families, requires every school to have an armed official on site—either a school-based law enforcement officer or a trained staff member. The Broward school board, favoring law enforcement, initially voted not to train and arm staff members through the new program. Later, when it determined it couldn't place enough school-based officiers on time, it reversed itself, opting to recruit and train armed guards to station in schools without officers. That shifting position has left the district behind some others that committed to arming school staff right away, the families said.

Broward County isn't the only district that has scrambled to comply with the law. An Associated Press survey of the state's 67 districts found that many of them are struggling to recruit enough officers and to find funding for the positions.

The victims' families have differing opinions about the gun debate, which has dominated national headlines since the tragedy, but they have presented a united front several times to call for increased school safety measures.

Photo: A Broward County sheriff's deputy stands watch at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as students returned to class after a February school shooting. --Terry Renna/AP


 Related reading about the Parkland school shooting:

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