C.M. Guerrero, The Miami Herald Via AP - A vigil post in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018.

Parkland parents, four years later: We never want another family to feel our horror

From rolling out more school resource officers to passing red flag laws, there is so much more to do to keep our children safe at America's schools.

In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school. Wilfredo Lee, AP

Our children were funny, kind-hearted, smart, and had the rest of their lives in front of them. Then suddenly they were among 17 students and teachers murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018.

Valentine’s Day now signifies something different to us. From this tragedy, Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools was born with a mission to pass comprehensive school safety measures to ensure sending a child to school is not a death sentence.

Today, there is an increased awareness of the safety needs of students and teachers, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have faced prolonged social and physical isolation and teachers were required to accommodate remote, hybrid and in-person learning, creating a critical need for vital mental health and behavioral monitoring resources. The perpetrator of the Parkland massacre was able to complete his plan despite a known and documented problem with school administrators, law enforcement and mental health facilities. With this information comes the responsibility that potential threats do not slip through the cracks.

Changes schools from the inside

Memorial in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in, Parkland, Fla., in February 2018. CRISTOBAL HERRERA, EPA-EFE

Stand with Parkland has regularly taken to Capitol Hill advocating for pragmatic laws to increase safety at schools. One example is the bipartisan Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act of 2021. This bill would establish a program to increase recruitment and retention of school-based mental health service providers, addressing the nationwide shortage of mental health professionals needed with students returning to in-person learning.

America’s school systems should be in the position to proactively identify students in need and connect them to the correct resources. Reporting applications (such as SaferWatch) paired with the hiring of counselors to regularly survey and assess the climate of schools is a change parents and educators should be fighting for.

The Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) recommends using a behavioral threat assessment model, which focuses on intervention strategies critical to maintaining a safe learning environment. It is long overdue to rethink how educators and administrators can work together to promote crisis prevention and response. While a proactive, collaborative approach is essential to prevent tragedies from occurring, so is investing in school resource officers (SROs).

It is imperative to improve the selection and training of officers to ensure the correct reactions to the different challenges that may be encountered in schools.

Get school resource officers off campus:Don't defund all police, but keep police out of schools. Kids will do better without them.

Organizations such as the National Association for School Resource Officers have been developing training to integrate SROs, administrators, educators and communities since 1991.

The discourse surrounding the use of SROs is complex, but ultimately, they are a beneficial tool for proactive risk management and the last line of defense when responding to crisis events if and when they occur, which is why we continue to support them. The Department of Justice data shows a 75% decline in juvenile arrests between 1996 and 2019, even as the number of SRO programs around the country increased.

Seconds count, and the 2019 NTAC report shows that "no attacks were ended by outside law enforcement agencies responding to the scene from off-campus."

Congress fails on red flag laws

We have also called for action on Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) or red flag laws – similar to the ones enacted in 40% of states including Florida – that keep firearms in the hands of responsible owners. Both Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have expressed support for red flag laws, yet Congress has failed to act. How many more lives need to be taken and communities traumatized for our leaders in both the House and Senate to act and present legislation for the president to sign?

Parkland victim's father: Traumatized students shouldn't have been flung into politics

The answer should be – not one more.

Stand with Parkland in its conception is a group of families who suffered a great loss and have vowed to help prevent your family from having to face this type of horror. The organization is inclusive and advocates for practical school safety reforms using the schools safety triad – enhanced campus security, improved mental health screening and support programs, and responsible firearms ownership – in an effort to prevent future mass shootings from occurring in America’s schools.

While it is unfortunate that schools are not an inherently safe space, involved and alert parents, teachers and staff have the power to protect our nation’s children.

Tony Montalto is the president of Stand With Parkland – The National Association of families for Safe Schools. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, was murdered.

Tom and Gena Hoyer are founding members of Stand with Parkland; Tom is also the treasurer. They had their 15-year old son, Luke, taken that day.

Phil and April Schentrup are founding members of Stand with Parkland; Phil is also the secretary. Their 16-year-old daughter, Carmen, was murdered.

Ryan Petty is a founding member and board member of Stand with Parkland. His daughter Alaina lost her life in the massacre.