On Friday, Dec. 9, Max Schachter, a school safety advocate who lost his son in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, spoke at the 27th annual New Mexico Law Enforcement Conference.
Schachter’s son, Alex, was killed when he was 14 years old during the massacre that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Schachter has now become a national figure in the fight to make schools safer.
Schachter was asked to speak by organizers of the conference. “Our focus was on leadership in chaos. And leadership in every agency is always a must, but one thing that we always neglect is the chaos that happens in everyday life,” Deputy Chief of Rio Rancho Police Andrew Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez explained that the issues in police leadership during the shooting at the Uvalde, Tex., elementary school prompted the conference’s theme of Leadership in Chaos.
“In light of the catastrophic failure in Texas and the catastrophic failure in leadership in that incident (the school shooting in Uvalde) in Texas and the catastrophic failure in leadership in that incident, we didn’t want that to happen here in New Mexico and we want to show the public that we’re ahead of the game here,” Rodriguez said.
Schachter’s three-hour-long keynote covered best practices and the lessons that can be learned from the Parkland shooting.
Schachter explained that it’s important to include law enforcement in conversations about school safety because their response is vital to stopping a gunman.
Police who responded to the Parkland shooting were famously criticized after their slow response and some officers’ unwillingness to enter the school. “We’ve got to do a better job not only at designing systems, but for better training, better preparedness, better equipment for law enforcement,” Schachter said in an interview after the keynote.
Since his son was slain, Schachter has advanced school safety in his home state of Florida. Schachter served on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission to investigate the shooting and make recommendations regarding school safety.
“My son was murdered in the Parkland school shooting. And after that happened, I made it my mission to make schools safer and do everything I could to prevent the next Parkland,” Schachter said.
Schachter has also done work at the federal level. “I worked with [former] President Trump and then President Biden on school safety as well,” Schachter said.
A part of Schachter’s work with the Trump administration was unveiling schoolsafety.gov, a website created by various government departments including the Department of Homeland Security, that aims to “help schools prevent, protect, mitigate, respond to, and recover from a range of school safety threats, hazards, and emergency situations,” according to the site.
Schachter worked with President Biden to make this clearinghouse on school safety a permanent resource for all citizens. It was originally introduced as the Luke and Alex School safety bill but, after Senate Democrats blocked the legislation, it was codified under the Safer Communities Act.
After Parkland, Schachter also created Safe Schools for Alex, an organization that advocates for school safety and provides resources in honor of his son.
Schachter also touched on mental health concerns in his conversation with The Paper. and said that we are in a mental health crisis.
“Mental health is a huge part of this. And so, you know, as a country, we need to do a better job of providing resources. The ratio of mental health counselors to students or school psychologists and students is really pathetic,” Schachter said.
Schachter is continuing to work on expanding his best practices and a school safety dashboard nationwide. Those practices include having armed officers on campus and using anonymous tip lines and threat assessments. He has also implemented a school safety dashboard in several states. The dashboard allows parents to see the number of fights, confiscated weapons and suspensions at a school. Data is not available for New Mexico.