After Parkland: How Reporters Have Covered the Story
Key events and news coverage from the past year
This week marks a somber anniversary in the United States — one year since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The massacre on February 14, 2018, left 14 students and 3 staff members dead, and many others wounded.
A lot has happened in the year since. Survivors and parents have searched for answers and accountability. Students have rallied and walked out of class to call for tougher gun laws. Law enforcement officials have acknowledged critical errors in the lead up and response to the shooting. States and the federal government have launched task forces and issued reports on school safety. And schools across the country have spent millions of dollars on new doors, cameras, and security guards.
Education reporters have been at the center of these developments, holding leaders accountable, telling the stories of victims and survivors, and exploring how the events of that day have affected schools across the country.
Here is a look at some key events and news coverage from the past year.
Students Spark a Movement
One of the most remarkable stories was the rise in student activism in the wake of the shooting. With Stoneman Douglas High School thrust into the national spotlight, some Parkland students used the platform to call for stricter gun laws and better mental health services in schools.
Their activism sparked a student-led movement across the country. Embodied in #Enough on social media, the movement culminated in a day of walkouts on April 20, 2018, when as many as 1 million students from coast to coast left their classrooms.
“Education reporters across the country, all at approximately the same appointed hour in their respective time zones, were carrying out roughly the same assignment: to chronicle the protests and give voice to students,” EWA’s Emily Richmond wrote of the walkouts.
Education Week called it “the most visible youth demonstrations in recent history.”
That was followed a week and a half later by the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., where tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in support of stricter gun control laws. Thousands turned out for sister marches in cities across the country.
A few of the movement’s student leaders shared their experiences with reporters at EWA’s National Seminar in May 2018.
A Relentless Pursuit of the Facts
That an expelled student with a lengthy school discipline record, a history of violent outbursts, disturbing social media posts, and run-ins with police was able to buy an assault weapon, walk into his former school, and kill 17 students and educators was a “multi-system failure,” according to the shooter’s own lawyer.
Much of what we now know about the gunman and the school district’s actions in the shooting’s aftermath is thanks to the remarkable work of local reporters. In particular, journalists at The South Florida Sun Sentinel and WLRN public radio have been relentless in their pursuit of the facts.
Despite being frequently stonewalled by the Broward County school district, the investigative efforts of these journalists have uncovered security lapses, attempted cover-ups, and broken promises in the wake of the shooting. They’ve reported on missed warning signs about the shooter, the flawed response from law enforcement on the day of the shooting, and the school district’s efforts to conceal information.
“Immediately after 17 people were murdered inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school district launched a persistent effort to keep people from finding out what went wrong,” Brittany Wallman, Megan O’Matz, and Paula McMahon reported for the Sun Sentinel in November. “For months, Broward schools delayed or withheld records, refused to publicly assess the role of employees, spread misinformation and even sought to jail reporters who published the truth.”
(Reporters from the Sun Sentinel faced contempt of court charges in the process of their reporting.)
In December, Education Week’s Benjamin Herold took a deep dive into the district’s handling of the shooting and explored the “profound rift” that has emerged between Parkland’s grieving community and its school district.
“Now, nearly 10 months after the shooting, Broward Schools has received at least 103 notices of potential lawsuits,” he wrote. “Victims’ families accuse the district of sweeping trouble under the rug and failing to act on years’ worth of warning signs about [the perpetrator].”
A Multibillion-Dollar Industry
“With fears around safety and shootings rising, school systems around the country now find themselves under considerable pressure to act,” Herold reported.
And act they have.
A multibillion-dollar industry has expanded as it steps up to retrofit schools’ security systems and assuage the fears of parents, students, policymakers, and educators.
“The recent tragedies are pumping new energy — not to mention funds — into strategies to keep children safe,” The 74’s Mark Keierleber reported in an expansive look into the security industry.
Those strategies range from the mundane, like keeping external doors locked, to the futuristic — “surveillance cameras with facial recognition capability, gunshot detection sensors, and software that scans social media platforms in search of the next shooter,” Keierleber wrote.
School security vendors have no shortage of creative solutions to peddle. What they lack, experts say, is proof that any of what they are selling actually works.
“Although school security has grown into a $2.7 billion market, … little research has been done on which safety measures do and do not protect students from gun violence,” reported John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich for The Washington Post.
By the Numbers
Reliable data on the frequency of school shootings is also surprisingly elusive.
“How many times per year does a gun go off in an American school? We should know. But we don’t,” NPR’s Anya Kamenetz reported last August.
In some cases, journalists have taken it upon themselves to quantify the frequency of shootings and related statistics.
The federal government reported 235 school shootings in the 2015-2016 school year. NPR, working with Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization, was able to confirm just 11 reported incidents. Meanwhile, Education Week has developed a school shooting tracker for shootings on K-12 school property that “resulted in firearm-related injuries or deaths.” The newspaper notes: “There is no single right way of calculating numbers like this, and the human toll in the immediate aftermath and long term are impossible to measure.”
Separately, The Washington Post calculated that more than 221,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton Colo. And, in a “first-of-its-kind analysis,” The Post estimated that more than 4.1 million students endured a school lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year — an experience that can inflict psychological damage on children, according to some child development experts.
Reflecting on ‘the School Shooting That Was Supposed to Change Everything’
On the first anniversary of the Valentine’s Day shooting, journalists across the country continue to report on the impact of the Parkland violence and tell the stories of the lives lost or forever changed.
The New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei explored “the complicated tapestry of sadness, fear and defiance that is now forever part” of survivors’ lives.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Brittany Wallman created a “scorecard” of what has changed since Parkland, and what hasn’t.
And in a moving project with The Trace, The Miami Herald, and McClatchy Newspapers, student journalists wrote obituaries for 1,200 children killed by gun violence since the Parkland shooting.