There but for the grace of God go I…
It is difficult to turn our minds from the unconscionable tragedy that took place in Broward County nearly two weeks ago. As we continue to lift those closest to this tragedy up in prayer, we cannot help but wonder what if. What if it were our community, our schools, our students?
While we fully understand that our schools are not immune to such a tragedy, it is important to note that on several levels there were multiple opportunities to prevent that particular incident. The person responsible was on the radar of several agencies and seemed to suffer from an untreated (perhaps undiagnosed) mental illness. Regrettably, he slipped through the cracks, did not receive the interventions he needed, and ultimately created a scenario of unspeakable heartbreak and destruction. Put plainly, the system failed, and failed to keep safe those most vulnerable among us.
Sometimes it feels like school districts are under a gag order. There has been much discussion throughout the state and the nation since this tragedy regarding how to best address current laws and restrictions pertaining to confidentiality and individual rights while at the same time protecting the basic rights of our students and employees to feel and be safe in our schools.
As I have often said, there are many advantages to living and working in a small, tightly knit community. Not least among them is the ability to more easily see our students as individuals, to know their specific circumstances, home lives, needs, and temperaments. Tragedies cannot always be prevented, but had this young man been in Gulf County, I am confident the outcome would have been different. I can’t help but to believe someone would have noticed much earlier, and someone would have acted to intervene.
As the nation looks back on this tragedy, theories will be formed and opinions proffered. In truth, it is unlikely that we will ever truly understand the “why” of this tragedy, and without understanding the complex causes, solutions will not be easily developed. This is not a Second Amendment debate! The gun was merely the means to the end. Instead, it is a question of how do we best detect the quietly smoldering hatred lurking in the shadows and intervene before it manifests itself in bloodshed and loss of precious life.
Just as the problem and its causes are multifaceted, so must be the solution. Schools are a soft target to those with an agenda. While no one wants our schools to develop a prison-like atmosphere, there are measures that can be put in place to ensure the safety of those within. Additional man-power in the form of armed resource officers, the legal option to arm qualified school district employees, access to well-trained mental health professionals, and more secure facilities are a start. Limited financial resources, however, make implementing such enhancements extremely difficult. I encourage each of you to contact your legislators, and please encourage them not to support any unfunded safe school mandates, while demanding that they make school safety a top priority. We, at Gulf District Schools, certainly will not limit our effort to be vigilant in securing and protecting our schools at all costs!
Recently, Gulf District Schools has experienced its own threats; threats that weeks ago may have been handled differently, but in the aftermath of the Broward County tragedy, these matters were squelched and immediately turned over to law enforcement to be handled as criminal matters.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to personally thank our Gulf School District teachers, support staff, and administrators for being strong, caring, and proactive. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions, because often personnel on our school campuses and concerned citizens have unique insight and perspective and can offer good suggestions to make improvements for our campuses. This will be particularly important as we take steps to enhance the security in and around the schools.
Chance favors the prepared mind. We will prepare. We will prevail. And we will give God the glory.
Jim Norton, Superintendent
Gulf District Schools