White House creates school safety tool

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Trump invites Parkland families to Monday event

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school campus
A memorial of flowers and colorful stones and messages adorn the corner of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school campus on the first anniversary of the shooting massacre on Feb. 14, 2019 in Parkland.
EMILY MICHOT/MIAMI HERALD/TNS

BY ALEX DAUGHERTY
AND FRANCESCA CHAMBERS
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU/TNS

WASHINGTON – The White House on Monday announced a new federal clearinghouse to coordinate for school safety best practices based on the recommendations of a federal commission created after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two years ago.

The website, schoolsafety.gov, provides resources that allow administrators, teachers, parents and law enforcement to take an assessment of their school district’s current safety practices to create an action plan. It’s the culmination of a year of work for many Parkland families.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said “all students deserve a safe learning environment” and the new website allows for communities to develop safety plans that meet their specific needs.

President Donald Trump invited Parkland families to the White House for the official announcement Monday — but at least one of the victims’ families was excluded from the gathering.

Guttenberg omitted

Fred Guttenberg, who was removed from last week’s State of the Union for yelling at the president, said he was not invited to the school safety event. Guttenberg’s 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among 17 people killed in a 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Florida.

“I guess it is not all of the families as I only learned of this today through a reporter,” Guttenberg tweeted Monday. “My family and I were NOT invited.”

Guttenberg, who became a gun control advocate after his daughter’s death, said in a text message to the Miami Herald that he was not happy with the way the White House released the information about the meeting with the families.

In a public release, the White House said “the president greets Parkland families” in the Oval Office, even though Guttenberg and his family were excluded from the invitation.

“I love the families and do not want to interfere,” Guttenberg said in a text message. “My issue is only with the way the (White House) put out its public schedule.”

Removed from SOTU

Guttenberg, who was invited to the State of the Union by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, interrupted Trump’s speech last week, as the president was talking about the Second Amendment, and was removed from the chamber.

He later apologized for the outburst. Guttenberg also gained notoriety for trying to shake Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s hand during his confirmation hearing. Guttenberg said he had wanted to introduce himself as Jaime’s father but Kavanaugh turned away. Kavanaugh later said he would have shaken Guttenberg’s hand if he’d known he was a Parkland parent.

Another Parkland parent, Andrew Pollack, said Guttenberg’s issues with the White House invite threatened to overshadow the work of families on school safety initiatives. Pollack’s 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, was among the shooting victims.

“All he does is bash the president day in and day out,” said Pollack, who supports Trump.

“Then he goes and makes a spectacle of himself at the State of the Union and the Kavanaugh hearings. Who would invite that guy with the way that he acts?”

What plan includes

The group Stand With Parkland, a group that represents most but not all of the victims’ families, was invited to the White House.

The group has worked on a number of safety-related proposals, including a bill by Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott that mandates information-sharing between the FBI and local law enforcement after the FBI mishandled tips about the Parkland shooter. Guttenberg and Pollack are not part of the group.

The website’s release was led by Federal Commission on School Safety, a body created by the president after the Parkland shooting. The plan includes specific tasks and resources that are available at the federal, state and local level to meet the needs of individual schools.

Schoolsafety.gov also allows educational and law enforcement professionals to share ideas and best practices regarding school safety with each other.

Recommendations

Ryan Petty, who attended the White House event, said in an interview that “a good portion” of the families were in attendance. His 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was killed in the shooting.

Petty has been working with a federal school safety commission for the past year and said the announcement will relate to several of its recommendations that were released last year. The recommendations include a federal clearinghouse for best practices regarding school safety, an issue that has traditionally been handled by states and local school districts.

Trump has not enacted new gun control measures despite political pressure from some Parkland students and families in the two years since the country’s deadliest high school shooting. Guttenberg is a well-known gun control advocate, while other parents, such as Petty and Max Schachter, have focused on school safety and accountability for the FBI, which failed to follow up on tips about the Parkland shooter.

Need for standards

During a Senate hearing in July 2019, Schachter stressed the need for federal standards for school safety.

“I traveled the country and came to realize that in all of the 139,000 K-12 schools in this country, each principal has to become an expert in door locks, access control, cameras, etc.,” Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, died in the Parkland shooting, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

“It made no sense to me that each school had to reinvent the wheel. The idea that crystallized for me was the need to create national school safety best practices at the federal level.”

The second anniversary of the Parkland shooting is Feb. 14.

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