A tragic memory undercuts the cheerful pink posters and cupid-themed décor visible at many public schools across Florida today.
That’s because a year ago on Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida - killing 17 people and wounding over a dozen others.
The actions of Nikolas Cruz sparked public outcry over gun control and school safety. It sparked student walk-offs nationwide, including right here in Osceola County.
And it made lawmakers take note, leading to a massive $400 million law that changed the face of school safety and mental health in Florida.
Now, one year later, armed cops walk the halls alongside Valentine’s Day posters at every public school. Active shooter drills take place as often as fire alarm drills. Security cameras, bulletproof glass and “hardened corners” capable of providing refuge to teachers and students in case of emergency situations are now a part of the environmental landscape in Florida.
On this noteworthy and somber anniversary, we look back at Parkland and its aftermath. From raw emotions to new laws to the insatiable quest to find closure and solutions in the wake of a senseless mass murder – these are the effects of Parkland, one year later.
Gunshots at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began around 2:22 p.m. and last six minutes. When it ends, 17 students and teachers are dead.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, is arrested later that day by authorities after exiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with fleeing students.
Students across Osceola County stage peaceful school walkouts to show solidarity for those killed in the South Florida shooting.
Students from at least eight Osceola County schools – including Osceola High, St. Cloud Middle and Poinciana High – stroll out of class for 17 minutes, a minute for each life lost.
Former Gov. Rick Scott signs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act into law.
The sweeping $400 million legislation requires at least one school resource officer (SRO) in every elementary and middle school in Florida – along with two at every high school. It allocates $97 million to assist districts with hiring these additional law enforcement officers – but provides no funding to help law enforcement pay their share of costs.
Osceola County ultimately receives about $3.4 million from the state.
All counties have roughly five months to hire hundreds of new SROs.
The MSD Act also raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, and bans bump stocks - or devices that turn assault rifles into machine guns. Bump stocks are now banned nationwide.
Florida also becomes the sixth state to implement a Red Flag law, allowing law enforcement officers – with a court order - to take away guns from people exhibiting violent behavior. Seven more states pass similar laws in 2018.
Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson publicly denounces arming educators, despite a provision in the MSD act that allocates over $60 million to counties that opt-in to arming teachers – otherwise known as a guardian program.
“I’m dead set against it,” said Gibson at a March 5 County Commission meeting. “Arming teachers is the wrong thing to do, and I will not do that as the sheriff of Osceola County.”
Gibson still maintains that position today.
A new guardian bill was filed this year (SB 7030) and cites – among other stipulations – that sheriffs must enact an armed guardian program if a school board votes in favor of it.
A somber mood loomed over Poinciana High School as faculty and staff prepped for a campus-wide active shooter drill March 14.
Classrooms went dark during the code red emergency scenario as teachers turned out lights, locked doors and gathered students away from windows.
Educators were told to “avoid, deny and defend” in case of an active shooter.
Multiple active shooter drills now take place each school year in Osceola County.
Osceola County residents of all ages join a nationwide call for “common-sense” gun reform at the “March for Our Lives” rally in Kissimmee on March 24.
The rally takes place on the steps of the Osceola County Courthouse, and features addresses from state Rep. John Cortes, Osceola County Commissioners Cheryl Grieb and Viviana Janer, and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez.
It was among 800 other events to coincide with the main march in Washington D.C., which draws hundreds of thousands of people.
The tense topic of gun safety legislation draws a standing-room only crowd and sparks lively debate at St. Cloud’s Community Center April 7 when U.S. Congressman Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) holds a town hall meeting to field questions from constituents.
Soto scheduled the event in response to Parkland and uses the town hall to detail what he called his “Five Point Gun Safety Action Plan,” a piece of legislation that never gains traction in the House.
The Osceola County School District receives $1.62 million from the state in June to pay for mental health services. Officials use the money to pay for two licensed mental health counselors, 11 school social workers, a student services coordinator and two school psychologists.
There is now a social worker at every high school in Osceola County.
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office is forced to hire over 35 new SROs at an initial estimated cost of more than $1.5 million in order to comply with the new MSD act state mandate. In Kissimmee, 12 out of 13 new police positions are SROs hired at a cost of $784,538 from the 2019 budget.
School resource officers are hired at an average cost of $138,000 each (includes training, salary and equipment).
It’s a struggle to get the position filled in time, but it works. When classes resume Aug. 13, each Osceola County school is equipped with at least one SRO.
Keeping schools safe in Osceola costs more than originally projected over the summer.
Last month, the School District confirmed that it’s taken $10 million to staff all SROs required by state law – and only $3.4 million of state funding was provided.
That means the school district kicked in $600,000 from its own budget, while the three law enforcement agencies were forced to pick up the remaining $6 million in costs.
All eyes are on Tallahassee as state lawmakers return for the 2019 legislative session March 5 – a year and three days after the MSD act became law.
No reoccurring funds were allocated in that original piece of legislation, so it’s unclear how much money school districts, law enforcement and local government will receive to pay for the safety measures put in place nearly a year ago.
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