On February 14, 2018, a former student entered a Parkland, Fla., high school with an AR-15 rifle, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others. A year later, students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continue to search for a sense of normal. Young activists from Parkland have launched a national movement, and policymakers around the country continue to scrutinize the details of the attack, searching for ways to make schools safer. Education Week asked those involved in conversations about safety, guns, and youth engagement how Parkland has changed the debate. And we asked those directly affected by the shooting how it continues to shape their lives.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.
I think we’re all grateful to see each other another day.
“In a normal high school setting, I don’t think students go up and hug their teachers very much—maybe on like special occasions, like graduation and stuff. But there are many teachers who every day when I see them, they want to give me a hug, they want to say hello, they want to know how I am. You know, I think we’re all grateful to see each other another day.”
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It happens to people like us every day.
“In my neighborhood, a lot of people have lost their lives. And my uncle himself lost his life with his best friend. … I just want people to know that it might not happen to you, but it happens to people like us every day. Ever since I was little I wasn’t the type to stand up and speak about it, because it was a real hard thing to speak about. But now that I’m older and I see it’s happening way more, I’m starting to realize and speak about it more.”
People don’t want to just wait for a school shooting to happen.
“We’ve seen more prevention programs being demanded from all 50 states because people don’t want to just wait for a school shooting to happen. They want to stop it from happening.”
It sounds like gunshots and you don’t know where to go and what to do.
“One of my students was sitting in her English class the other day and just being in that room, it gives her such anxiety because she looks out the window and she sees where she ran last year. You could be out at a restaurant and there’s a loud sound. It could be a balloon popping, but it sounds like gunshots and you don’t know where to go and what to do, and your heart stops for a minute.”
I thank them for their bravery and their courage.
“By February 15th, it was really evident that these kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, they were going to use their platform, the one that they never asked to be given, that they were going to use it and they were going to use their voices to demand the kind of change that this country really needs. And I think that that momentum really carried over through the year through elections. ... I’m so horribly sorry for what those kids have gone through, but I thank them for their bravery and their courage. I think that they brought a lot of energy to this movement this year. And I appreciate their courage more than I can adequately say.”
It felt like it happened to us.
“There are students who get scared because of it being so local, right next door, a couple miles away. There are kids who grew up together with the kids from Parkland. So even though it wasn’t our district, it felt like it happened to us.”
I know that pain.
“People in Newtown have experienced the pain of mass shootings and when they see students like the Parkland students go on TV after their own mass shooting, they say, ‘I know that pain, and I can’t believe that other people are still going through this six years after we experienced this incredible pain.’ "
[A] lack of recognition and emphasis by the schools on the basics.
“I think there is a lack of recognition and emphasis by the schools on the basics. ... There are a whole lot of things that need to be done that don’t cost a whole lot of money that don’t require legislative changes, that don’t require significant actions by school boards. Why is there not, in every district in the state, in every district in this country, a written, disseminated active-assailant response procedure that every staff member has been trained on? Why?”
I just think that all life is so important and precious.
“It definitely made me think about life in less of a ‘my life’ kind of perspective and more of like ‘our life,’ like the world, all together. I think less like, ‘What do I want to do for my life?’ and more, ‘What do I want to do for the world?’ Because I just think that all life is so important and precious, and if I can do anything to preserve the life of people who haven’t lived it fully yet, then I would do that.”
They tend to have pretty strong ideas that the Second Amendment is there for a reason.
“I haven’t seen a big change in students saying, ‘All of a sudden, oh, this particular school shooting, now I’m going to change my mind.’ They tend to have pretty strong ideas that the Second Amendment is there for a reason, and that it’s their right to be able to own a firearm.”
We really need a lot more emphasis on prevention.
“One of the big problems is that after a school shooting, people think about crisis response, they think about target hardening, they think about school security, and that’s only a part of the equation. We really need a lot more emphasis on prevention, and by that I mean threat assessment, mental health services for troubled kids, efforts to de-escalate conflict and really keep situations from escalating to the point of a crisis.”
I loved it in there.
“In the beginning I cried every day driving to work. I think a lot of us did. I’m not unique. I was okay once I got here because I had to be, of course, for my students and colleagues. Every day when I walk past the 1200 building, it’s very emotional because I loved it in there. That was my happy place in room 1214. And we’re reminded of it every day because there’s a 12-foot fence around that building and the doors are locked with chains. And so, emotionally, it is actually quite draining.”
Everyone knows they need a solution.
“I don’t think the urgency could get any higher. Everyone knows they need a solution, but nothing has been presented that people were like, ‘Yes, that’s exactly it. That’s what we need.’”
We’re looking for a quick-fix cure that doesn’t exist.
“What we know post-Parkland is what we knew post-Columbine — that in dissecting and doing a forensic analysis of these high-profile school shootings, the common thread is that they involve allegations of failures of people, policies, procedures, and systems, not failures of hardware and products. ... We’re looking for a quick-fix cure that doesn’t exist.”
[Teachers] need to be able to make decisions about how to keep their classrooms safe.
“[Teachers are] the ones that see these kids face-to-face and so they need to be able to make decisions about how to keep their classrooms safe, and if it involves removing a child who demonstrates that they are routinely not just disruptive but perhaps even threatening, they need to be able to do so without a message from the administration saying, ‘Oh, you can’t do that because, you know, we would have to report that on, you know, with some quota to Washington about the kids who we suspend or expel.’ ”
[Y]oung people of color start to feel the burden of what happened.
“After Parkland, we saw what is the typical, knee-jerk reaction from politicians. The elected officials move very quickly to put more police in schools and young people of color start to feel the burden of what happened, even though they were not involved, their schools were not the targets of these events, the shooters don’t even look like them in terms of race, but they start to feel the brunt of that pressure.”
There’s this real focus on more data sharing.
“We’ve seen a lot more school administrators and legislatures mandating that certain technologies be used for school safety. So this is everything from requiring social media monitoring ... to requiring almost full sharing of student records with school resource officers and with their counterparts in law enforcement. There’s this real focus on more data sharing, more data collection, but almost no focus on how we protect that additional data and whether we should be collecting that data in the first place.”
[T]hey let my daughter get murdered in that school and they refuse to accept responsibility.
“They poked at me like I’m a caged lion, because they let my daughter get murdered in that school and they refuse to accept responsibility. So because of that, it leaves me no choice to get into the octagon with these people and finish these policies that create these unsafe environments.”
Interviews: Evie Blad and Benjamin Herold | Portraits: Josh Ritchie for Education Week
Audio Editor: Kavitha Cardoza | Design & Visualization: Stacey Decker and Gina Tomko | Photo Editor: Kaitlyn Dolan
Vol. 38, Issue 21, Pages 8-9
Published in Print: February 13, 2019, as One Year After Parkland, What’s Changed? (Reflections)