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Unlocked door are focal point in Uvalde and Parkland shootings


OPINION AND COMMENTARY

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After the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida passed sweeping school-safety legislation.

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There are a lot of what-ifs surrounding the massacre at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

What if law enforcement had acted quicker? What could’ve happened if a door had not been unlocked, allowing the alleged shooter to enter the school were he killed 21 people — 19 children and two teachers? We might never get an answer, and what we know about the shooting is still evolving.

Authorities originally said Salvador Ramos entered through a door left propped open by a teacher. But a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said Tuesday the teacher closed the door after realizing a shooter was on campus, but it didn’t lock as it should have been. Authorities are investigating why.

As we await more answers, we’re caught in a should’ve-could’ve-would’ve cycle that Florida knows painfully well.

In 2018, Nikolas Cruz entered Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School through an unlocked and unstaffed door. He then made his way through all three floors, firing into classrooms and hallways, killing 17 people. Like it appears to have happened in Texas, law enforcement botched its response.

“Unlocked and opened gates were regularly left unstaffed for long periods of time on the MSDHS campus,” according to a report by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, created by lawmakers after the shooting. The report also found that, “Individual classroom door locks could only be locked from outside the door.” On the day of the shooting, some doors were unlocked, turning students and teachers into sitting ducks.

The Parkland shooting caused a seismic shift in how school sites should look after Florida lawmakers rushed to pass sweeping legislation just month later. This year, they tightened those school safety laws by increasing training relating to youth mental health and requirements for parental notification.

Open and inviting campuses are now being fortified, with a single point of entry and fencing — the price we must pay for our children’s safety. The presence of an armed law-enforcement officer, safety officer or school employee serving as a “guardian” now is mandatory on each campus. Miami-Dade Schools Police says it has met that requirement at all of its 350-plus traditional public schools and most charter schools, which are run independently, with school resource officers. Before Parkland, there were officers in high schools and some middle schools, and officers would stop by elementary schools every few days or once a week, Chief Edwin Lopez told the Herald Editorial Board.

Miami-Dade also follows a 2019 recommendation by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission that doors leading to instructional classrooms or student-occupied spaces remain locked during school hours, Lopez said. Of course, full compliance by school staff juggling many other duties will always be a challenge.

“There’s a human component to everything in school safety,” Lopez said. The district does monthly drills to go over safety protocols. SROs work with school administrators to “consistently monitor” whether doors are locked, “but there is no set schedule as to how or when it takes place,” the district said in an email.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says locked doors may delay the entrance of an intruder, but it cautions school districts to consider how they may hinder response from first responders.

In Texas, law enforcement has come under fire for taking too long to breach a classroom and kill Salvador Rolando Ramos. The Texas Department of Public Safety has said the school police chief wrongly treated the active scene as a hostage situation, as if children were no longer at risk, while officers waited in the school hallway outside the classroom.

That goes against active-shooter training school officers in Miami-Dade and elsewhere receive that instructs them to not wait for backup before confronting an assailant, Lopez said.

“Our officers are trained to neutralize a threat without delay, whether it’s one officer, or two, or four or 12,” he said. “Our officers are trained to go in and kill. I know it sounds blunt. I know it sounds aggressive, but as a parent, that’s what I expect my school resource officer of my child’s school to do.”

Florida has had no school mass shootings since Parkland. We want to believe that’s because of the unprecedented safety measures lawmakers and school officials put into place, though different districts have implemented them at different paces.

“What will keep you up at night is the fact that I can’t with 100% certainty ensure that a critical incident cannot or will not happen at one of our schools,” Lopez told the Editorial Board.

“That, as a police chief, makes me lose sleep.”

Lopez is right. We must also live with the possibility that everything we do can in some way be circumvented — that doors might not lock when they should, that shooters with military-style weapons may still find their way onto a school campus.

Which is why we must ensure that both the “human component,” hardened school campuses and targeted legislation are working hand in glove to get school safety right.

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