TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In the four years since the shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, families of those killed and the students who survived have made real changes in state law to make Florida schools safer.
They hope to make several more changes in this year’s legislative session with three bills supported by Stand With Parkland, the advocacy group that grew out of the tragic shooting to help make schools safer.
“These are all the recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission that have not yet been adopted,” said Fla. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, when introducing SB 802 in the Florida Senate Education Committee.
The bill makes a number of changes to state law, including requiring district school boards to withhold superintendent’s salaries if they are out of compliance with school safety and security requirements. It also provides resources to investigate threats and lays out penalties for false tips provided to FortifyFL, the app for reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement and school officials.
Tony Montalto, the father of Gina Montalto, who was killed in the shooting, testified at the committee hearing about an additional element of the bill that directly addresses failures that led to the Parkland shooting.
“A unified search tool for law enforcement to help prevent information silos, where those in charge of protecting students fail to communicate with one another,” said Montalto, who is the president of Stand With Parkland. “These proved so deadly in my community.”
The bill also brings charter schools into compliance with safety mandates, maintains a director of school-based diversion programs, and helps improve the behavioral threat assessment used to identify students who pose a danger to themselves or others.
Another bill, SB 1404, creates a new section of Florida Statutes to enumerate the authorized duties of certified school counselors.
It requires them to meet a number of criteria to be more student-focused, laying out what counselors should and should not be doing to provide the best services to students by “consulting with a variety of stakeholders…to identify and resolve students’ issues, needs, and problems.”
One of those requirements is to provide mental health counseling to students who need it.
“Especially in the current youth mental health crisis, wait times to see a therapist can be weeks if not months — currently about 6 months,” one counselor testified at a committee hearing.
A third bill, SB 1240, ensures that students referred to a school-based or community-based mental health service provider are assessed within 15 days of referral. There are further requirements, including when services must be initiated after the assessment.
The new measures follow a spate of bills that have become Florida law in the four years since the shooting.
Within three weeks after the shooting, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act made changes to gun laws many thoughts weren’t possible in Florida.
It raised the minimum age to buy a rifle in Florida from 18 to 21, matching the federal law for buying handguns from licensed dealers. That law is still being challenged in court by the NRA.
The law also imposed a 3-day waiting period on gun purchases and banned “bump stocks,” devices that alter guns to “mimic automatic weapon fire.” They were used by the gunman in the Las Vegas shooting massacre six months before Parkland. In 2019, the Trump Administration would ban them nationwide.
The bill implemented a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to seize firearms from a person deemed dangerous to themselves or others, with a judge’s approval.
It established the Office of Safe Schools within the Florida Department of Education to implement best practices on school safety, and created the School Safety Awareness Program.
The bill forced schools to conduct risk assessments, name a school safety specialist, and conduct active shooter and hostage situation drills “at least as often as other emergency drills.”
Lawmakers also allocated millions of dollars for the bill to harden Florida schools, making buildings more secure and hiring more school resource officers, though the deputy on campus that fateful day failed to engage the shooter.
That failure helped inspire the bill’s Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, allowing sheriffs and school districts to decide whether to train school personnel to be armed guardians on campuses. The following year, a separate bill expanded that program to include teachers.
In 2021, the legislature passed a bill establishing a parent’s right to get timely notification of threats at school or before a child is removed for a Baker Act examination.
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