On Feb. 14, 2018, Isabelle Asma delivered gifts to fellow students at Manatee School For the Arts in Palmetto. It was Valentine’s Day, and Asma soon returned to her classroom for a scheduled lockdown drill.
A teacher broke the news when Asma returned: A gunman was firing on students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. It was no drill.
“We found out there was a shooting that happened,” she said. “Of course the first instinct was, ‘Another one?’ And that’s so sad.”
More than 200 miles separate the high school in Parkland from the art school in Palmetto. Still, the shooting hit close to home for Asma and her peers.
In a rush to secure Florida schools, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a law that requires security on every elementary, middle and high school campus. They could employ law enforcement or school “guardians,” armed civilians who train in the local sheriff’s office.
One guardian, equipped with a Kel-Tec rifle and a military background, is now MSA’s protector. Another combat veteran is working through guardian training at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, preparing to join the school’s security team.
Asma said the guard offered a sense of comfort after the initial shock had passed.
“I’ve never really been exposed to guns or anything,” Asma said.
“It wasn’t necessarily scary, but it was kind of heartbreaking to know little sixth-graders are going to see that and be like, that’s just how they grow up,” she continued.
Her classmate agreed: The school does feel safe, but not for its locked doors and armed guards. Kyle Richardson said a sense of community brings him peace.
“We know when someone’s starting to feel excluded and stuff like that, and most of us try and talk to them, make sure they’re OK,” he said.
While more armed security is not Richardson’s first choice, he would prefer experienced law enforcement over armed civilians, especially if the guardians don’t have prior military experience, unlike MSA’s guard.
However, he also backed pending legislation that would allows teachers to enroll in the guardian program. He said the plan would instill doubt in potential shooters, making them second-guess every classroom.
The plan, he said, would require plenty of checks and balances, including multiple certifications, ongoing training and constant oversight of the teachers.
Fellow senior Terrell Alexander said armed security is a needless expense at MSA, where concerns are few and far between, even before Parkland and the new safety measures.
“Just being around here for so long, we never had a problem,” he said. “I just feel super safe here.”
Alexander started middle school at MSA and climbed his way through high school, as did Richardson and Asma. Their views on security may differ, but they share a sense of community.
Joining schools throughout the state, their class observed a moment of silence of 10:17 a.m. on Thursday, honoring those who were injured or killed in Parkland exactly one year ago.
As the moment passed, the class of 17 students remained largely silent.
“Thank you very much for remembering and honoring those who lost their lives,” a speaker said over the intercom.