Why this Florida dad is talking to Utah's state school board about school safety

Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox, right, listens as Max Schachter, father of a Parkland shooting victim, speaks at the signing of a school safety bill in Salt Lake City, April 10. The Utah School Board of Education is looking to establish a school safety dashboard. The school board received input from Schachter this week.

Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox, right, listens as Max Schachter, father of a Parkland shooting victim, speaks at the signing of a school safety bill in Salt Lake City, April 10. The Utah School Board of Education is looking to establish a school safety dashboard. The school board received input from Schachter this week. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Last fall, Marjory Stoneman High School was opened for guided visits for people who wanted to learn more about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and adults were shot to death on Valentine's Day 2018.

Max Schachter, whose son, Alex, was killed during the massacre, was there.

"In October of last year, I opened it up to the whole country to come and bear witness to this horrible tragedy where 17 were murdered, including my little boy, Alex, and 17 were injured in just three minutes and 51 seconds. We had 225 people walk through that building and the state that brought the largest contingent through that building was Utah," Schachter told the Utah State Board of Education earlier this week.

The group included Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, Rep. Jefferson Burton, R-Spanish Fork, and several members of the Utah State Board of Education staff, "so I was really impressed," said Schachter, who after his son's death formed the nonprofit organization Safe Schools for Alex. Its mission is to provide the latest school safety best practices and resources to students, parents, school districts and law enforcement so children can learn in a safe environment.

"I didn't have a relationship with Utah prior to that but their focus on this issue, when they came through that building, was really second to none. I know they were extremely impacted and I appreciate them all coming all this way to walk through the horrible crime scene."

The school board met to consider whether to direct staff to write a letter of support for a federal grant application the University of Florida is seeking from the Department of Justice.

If the partners' grant application is approved, Safe Schools for Alex will devote $2 million to the state of Utah to establish a school safety dashboard, which is a component of HB84, the comprehensive school safety bill passed by Utah lawmakers earlier this year.

Max Schachter, right, who is the founder of Safe Schools for Alex and father of Parkland, Florida, school shooting victim Alex Schachter, listens to Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, at a press conference held to discuss the School Security Task Force at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Feb. 20.
Max Schachter, right, who is the founder of Safe Schools for Alex and father of Parkland, Florida, school shooting victim Alex Schachter, listens to Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, at a press conference held to discuss the School Security Task Force at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Feb. 20. (Photo: Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

Safe Schools For Alex has previously partnered with the University of Florida to develop the most comprehensive school safety dashboard in the nation. It was designed to help reduce violence on school campuses by providing timely access to critical school safety data.

Five other states have developed dashboards, according to safeschoolsforalex.org. The others include Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Virginia.

While the legislation calls for the creation of a dashboard, the Utah State Board of Education did not receive specific funding for the parent portal.

If the University of Florida receives the grant, Safe Schools for Alex will be a subrecipient and the state of Utah will be a benefactor, according to state school board documents.

While the state school board approved sending a letter of support, with three board members dissenting, some board members raised concerns about student privacy.

According to board staff, data on the dashboard would be aggregated, which means there would be no data used that identifies individual students.

The Utah State Board of Education currently collects a wide array of data on school incidents, student discipline and law enforcement activities, including infractions during school. Public charter schools and school districts report incidents to the USBE annually.

The Florida dashboard includes rates of violence like fighting and weapons, rates of disciplinary responses like suspension and expulsion, public health concerns like vaping, and indicators of school bus safety such as crashes. It also includes measures of context such as school achievement and community violence as well as measures of preventative approaches like student-to-teacher/counselors/nurse/social workers ratios, attendance, and whether schools have suicide prevention trained staff.

Utah's dashboard would be built according to the state board's specifications using the data sets it wants to visualize, according to board documents.

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Marjorie Cortez

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