Parkland

Editor’s note: The sadness in South Florida is palpable. We watched coverage of funeral services in Boca Raton and Parkland filled with the tears of parents, students, teachers and friends left grief stricken. We are all touched and connected in more ways than we know. On our social media feeds we saw people we knew whose children were friends with those lost in the mass shooting. A man I used to coach in Little League many, many years ago, shared his grief over losing a friend of his son that he once coached. The circle. Connections. Humanity. We hope we find ways to act and to connect. I hope this is the tipping point. The students left behind at Douglas High are resolved to make lasting and positive change. I wouldn’t bet against them.

When my daughter told us she wanted to be a teacher we were proud and delighted.

We are a family that cherishes education—especially public education.

Our daughter Sam went to public elementary schools, a private middle school in Delray that we felt would help her with a learning disability and graduated from Atlantic High School. She went to Palm Beach State College and earned an associate’s degree before heading off to the University of South Florida to study Exceptional Student Education.

USF has a great program because Sam spent a whole lot of time in the classroom working with ESE students before she was hired to teach in Hillsborough County. She started her career with a fair amount of experience and exposure as a result of internships and student teaching. She knew what she was signing up for. And as a student who overcame a learning disability, she had the heart for students who are exceptional.

I’m not sure that our family knew as much as she did despite our long term involvement in education as volunteers and parents.

I never thought that teaching was a dangerous profession. I knew it was a difficult and stressful job, but I never felt that my daughter would be in danger working in a public school.

How naïve, I was.

Although it shouldn’t be considered dangerous and I don’t think she’s unsafe, we are now well aware that there are dangers.

School shootings—mass shootings—massacres have been a part of our national conversation since Columbine in 1999.

“How Many Times”, blared the headline in the New York Post just above a picture of a crying mother and her daughter outside of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in picturesque and upscale Parkland where 17 people were murdered by a deranged former student carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.

Since Sandy Hook in December 2012 (still the worse mass school shooting in U.S. history with 20 dead) there have been 273 school shootings in America. Twelve of those shootings are considered “mass” events. Overall, 473 people have been shot and 112 people have been killed.

According to the New York Times there are 7 school shooting incidents on average every month in America.

So yes, I now think my daughter has a dangerous job as well as a difficult job.

When I was a kid, we used to drill for a nuclear war by hiding under our desks. We didn’t really know what we were doing and I don’t remember a lot of worries about being bombed. Maybe my teachers were scared but I didn’t pick up on it.

A few years back, teachers would prep for tornados in areas prone to those, but that has morphed into active shooter drills all over the country.

By all accounts, the students and teachers at Douglas High were aware of and prepared for a shooting. They had drilled. They had talked about being vigilant and paying attention to students making threats. But it’s hard to prepare for someone coming at you with a lot of ammunition and a weapon that is lethal.

 

Jim Cavanaugh — a former ATF agent who is an MSNBC law-enforcement expert — points out that if someone can walk across your parking lot with a long gun and enter your school or business, “You don’t have security.” I get that. But how many places in America are prepared for that scenario and what would we be giving up if somehow we were?

Being a parent these days is a nerve wracking endeavor.

I remember talking to my daughter about roofies (date rape drugs), drinking and driving, peer pressure, inappropriate behavior and a whole host of other things awaiting her out there.

For years, we slept with one eye open, waiting for our children to come home at curfew.

But I thought she would be safe teaching young children in a cute little elementary school in Tampa.

When you talk to teachers—you hear stories. Stories about community and family dysfunction—violence, abuse, drugs, alcohol, financial stress, neglect.

When I was involved with Dare 2 Be Great, a charitable organization that gave scholarships to Delray children we heard a litany of stories during our interviews. We kept tissues close by because what our children go through breaks your heart. Right down the street from $30 hamburgers and expensive real estate are countless stories of neglect and violence.

And we know that society doesn’t stop at the doors of our schools. We also know that teachers and support staff provide love, attention, social services, an ear, nutrition and even clothing to the children they work with every day.

I don’t see answers coming from Washington. Forget gun control. It has been made an all or nothing argument. If you favor restrictions on assault weapons and background checks on sales you are against the Second Amendment.

I tell some of my friends who lean more conservative than I ever will, that I support the right to bear arms, I just don’t think there is any need to have military grade weapons with more firepower than our Police Department possesses or that people with histories of mental illness or violence should have them.

Most of my conservative friends get that. Most of them agree, but Congress can’t act.

Did they address “bump stocks” after Las Vegas? Did anything meaningful happen nationally after Sandy Hook?

Congress is a joke. The Founding Fathers would be ashamed. They can’t solve a problem or seize an opportunity and that’s on us. We stand for what we tolerate. And we tolerate a ridiculously partisan system awash in special interest cash. I think partisanship that values victories over the opposition is unpatriotic. It’s a disgusting disgrace.

I think most people agree since Congress has approval ratings in the single digits. I’d like to know who the 9 percent of Americans that think they are doing a good job are.

I know a few members of Congress and they don’t think the House or Senate works.

But we stand for it.

So I think the answers can be found locally. On the city and county level.

We can prepare and we can drill and we should. We can add metal detectors and security guards and we should. We can take a look at our mental health services and rush to bring more social services to those who need it. And we should.

But there’s something fundamental happening here.

In our society.

In our homes.

In our neighborhoods.

On social media. On cable TV and on the Internet.

There’s something that our humanity has to address.

Until then, our sons and daughters, our teachers, administrators, support staff and everyone in between—including concert goers at a Country Music Festival are at risk.

We are not safe.

And dammit, we should be.

Comments

  1. Scott Porten says:

    Well done! Perhaps I’m naïve, but I am really hoping that the events at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas will finally prompt our law makers to act. This time, I don’t think the public will stand for anything less.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      I hope this is the tipping point, Scott. It’s good to see the high school students lead. They will make a difference.

    • Well said Jeff. As you well know Johnny and I set out to help the kids nobody wanted help and along the way we found out that those in government, including the school district and the State of Florida fought us all the way. Lip service is all we received. I commend the staff at Delray Youth Vocational for all their efforts for the 12 years they fought to keep the school going, but in the end it was the system that failed us. The system failed the students who lost their lives in Parkland. How many RED FLAGS were needed. Yes you are correct, the system is broken and we the people need to vote for people who can do the job not the party they belong to. We the people deserve better!

      • Jeff Perlman says:

        Fred, I have been talking to people lately about what and Johnny started. It is the answer to some many issues. I only wish the school could have lasted and expanded. You guys were awe inspiring and changed many, many lives.

        • Saralyn L. Buzen says:

          Thank you, Jeff for your knowledgeble thoughts! Its a large can of worms that, not only our country is dealing with, but also globally. This issue will not be solved overnight. Today’s carnage is the result of years of our inadequately frailty melting pots of society. Maybe it’s time to take out our violins while Rome burns. Utpopia is only in our minds.

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