TALLAHASSEE, FL – A Florida grand jury looking into last year's Parkland school shooting chided schools, law enforcement and other local jurisdictions over continued "turf wars" that could hamper the response to another crisis.
In a report released late Wednesday, the statewide grand jury said the continued squabbling and other "systemic" failures were urgent enough for it to speak out before its term.
It suggested that lawmakers give the state Department of Education authority to monitor and enforce compliance with a raft of laws put in place after the shooting that killed 17 people, including 14 students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
Shortly after taking office, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested that the Florida Supreme Court impanel a statewide grand jury for a yearlong review into school safety.
“Squabbling between local and regional stakeholders over land rights, quality of service and the financing of various projects actively and currently hampers the stakeholders overall ability to identify and communicate potential threats and to react appropriately in crisis scenarios,” the grand jury wrote.
Much of the grand jury's concerns aren't new, including concern over antiquated radios and communications systems, staffing and debate over arming staffers. In particular, the grand jury urged school districts to assume responsibility for making sure armed security personnel are installed at charter schools.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, operating under the auspices of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, have pointed out many of the same concerns.
The commission released its second report to lawmakers last month and called for improved mental health services, including more funding, to help schoolchildren deal with the stresses in their lives — a strategy the commission hopes will help prevent more violence from erupting at other Florida campuses.
Lawmakers responded to the commission’s first set of recommendations by enacting a package of school-safety measures, including raising the legal age for gun purchases, requiring armed security officers on every campus and adopting a “red flag” law.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who shared the report with reporters, urged school districts to do a better job in complying with state laws.
“This latest Grand Jury report confirms what many of us have feared," she said, “that our schools are still not as safe as they could be.”
The panel said noncompliance with state laws continues to be “a persistent problem, even with Florida school districts under heavy scrutiny from both the MSDPSC and this grand jury.”
It was clear, the grand jury said, that “the threat of public shaming or indictment is no longer on the table” and that state lawmakers need to step in to designate an agency to ensure compliance.
The grand jury suggested that the Florida Department of Education take on that role.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis said the governor is reviewing the recommendations made by the grand jury.