Reflecting on the Parkland tragedy, its lasting impacts, and work still to be done

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Reflecting on the Parkland tragedy, its lasting impacts, and work still to be done

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By: Jen Easterly, Director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
Today marks six years since 17 students and faculty senselessly lost their lives and 17 others were injured when a mass murderer entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and started shooting. Since that horrific day, 124 more Americans have been killed and 331 injured on campuses across the country in 189 separate school shootings—almost 3 shootings a month since Parkland. This is simply unacceptable, and it must stop.
Last month, I joined Education Secretary Cardona to not only remember, but also to walk in the shoes of those who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building 1200. I had the privilege of talking with the parents of Alex Schachter, Gina Montalto, Luke Hoyer, Jaime Guttenberg, and Alyssa Alhadeff, beautiful students with the brightest of futures ahead of them, and Debbi Hixon, the wife of Athletic Director Chris Hixon, who gave his life rushing into the building to save hundreds of students that day.
With daunting courage and grace, the families of these victims have turned one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences imaginable into action. They founded organizations, such as Stand with Parkland, Safe Schools for Alex, Make Our Schools Safe, and Orange Ribbons for Jaime and have tirelessly worked with everyone from the local school district, the district attorney, law enforcement, state and local officials, and the federal government to not only raise awareness of school safety, but also to make our schools safer.
And while there have been notable improvements since the Parkland tragedy, the work continues. My visit reinforced my belief that every student and educator has the right to learn and teach in an environment that is safe, supportive, and free from any threat of violence. CISA, in collaboration with families of the Parkland victims, took action to formalize and strengthen our commitment to school safety in the wake of the tragedy by establishing the School Safety Task Force (SSTF) in 2019, our dedicated school safety program that creates resources and products to address the most pressing issues and threats confronting K-12 communities. Through our SSTF, we manage the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse, an interagency collaboration among the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services; Homeland Security; and Justice that bring the full resources from across the federal government together to strengthen the security of our nation’s schools.
As part of our work with the Clearinghouse, we manage, a comprehensive repository of more than 600 federal and state resources, programs, tools, evidence-based practices, and actionable recommendations across key school safety topics. A lot of our discussion while visiting Parkland was around building cultures of safety within our schools and local communities—a key focus of the resources available on the website.
School safety is not just the job of school administrators or school resource officers. We need to be thinking about how we can truly empower and engage all members of the community in safety efforts—creating positive, safe, and trusting environments; improving school physical security measures; providing appropriate training on emergency procedures and protocols; increasing mental health supports and resources; and implementing trauma-informed approaches to the educational setting.
Being in Parkland and hearing from students and faculty who were there that day and who live with the experience day in and day out underscored how important a school culture is that empowers students to come forward if they have concerns about safety. When schools are made aware of these potential threats, they can effectively intervene with the appropriate resources and support. To help schools create these cultures, CISA partnered with the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center to develop the K-12 Bystander Reporting Toolkit. This toolkit, which was released last May, offers simple strategies and guidance K-12 schools can use to implement and enhance safety reporting programs and encourage bystander reporting.
We’ve also focused on the physical security of our nation’s schools. We’ve developed evidence-based tools that K-12 schools can use to evaluate and improve physical security. The K-12 School Security Guide Product Suite helps schools assess their unique needs and identify and prioritize actions to bolster physical security. This approach brings together different parts of school security that had traditionally been siloed to detect, delay, and respond to threats and risks so there is no single point of failure. CISA’s subject matter experts in the field – our Protective Security Advisors – are also available to help schools assess their security vulnerabilities and come up with a plan to be better prepared for emergencies.
Finally, during a roundtable after our walkthrough of the school, we talked about the impact that financial resources can have on the security posture of a school. However, the grants landscape can be difficult to navigate. To help schools locate and access the federal funding that’s available to them, developed the Grants Finder Tool. This tool compiles and organizes existing federal school safety-related grants in one centralized location and provides direction to help schools find the grant programs most relevant or applicable to their individual needs.
My visit to Parkland had a profound impact on me as a parent, as a public servant, and as a member of the broader school safety community; I will carry this experience and these conversations with me for the rest of my life.
To those impacted by school violence, we honor the memories of your loved ones tragically taken too soon, and we stand in partnership with you to ensure that families and communities across our country do not have to endure this pain and loss ever again.
To the survivors and the families that lost loved ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School six years ago today: we remain inspired and deeply moved by your actions, and by your efforts to turn your pain into progress and purpose. We are also grateful to the dedicated state and local officials for the invaluable on-the-ground work you do on the front lines of school safety. We are honored to work side-by-side with you for a safer and more secure nation.
As I reflect on all that we’ve accomplished in the six years since the Parkland tragedy, I also recognize that we have much, much more to do. The whole of CISA is steadfast in its commitment to making K-12 schools safer and more secure each day.