Cerabino: Bullied Palm Beach County Schools misfires on safety forum

The Palm Beach County School District has become gun shy.

And by that I mean shy about gun discussions.

That’s why the district rescinded its previously granted permission for a school safety forum this week at Olympic Heights High School, a forum titled “Town Hall for Our Lives.”

The name, the district belatedly noted, mirrored the name used in dozens of gatherings around the country. These forums, led by student activists, focus on the idea that the availability of military-designed assault weapons — rifles specifically designed to create mass carnage in the most efficient manner — should not be in the hands of civilians.

“We were clear that it could not be partisan in nature and had to focus on school safety and mental health,” Amity Schuyler, the school district’s chief of staff told The Palm Beach Post. “We had concerned parents start calling us yesterday, bringing to our attention the associated political perceptions with the title.”

Oh, yes. The “concerned parents.” I’m trying to imagine what parents would be concerned that the next Nikolas Cruz won’t have an AR-15 at his disposal to hunt their children.

“I hear there’s going to be a discussion about school safety and mass shootings at schools, and as a concerned parent I hope nobody’s going to suggest that we ought to make it harder for school mass shooters to kill fewer students by limiting them to handguns.”

Yes, it was more than likely that people at the canceled forum would have brought up the notion that one way to limit the carnage of mass shootings, like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, is to make sure that assault weapons and their high-volume ammunition clips aren’t readily available to the next mass shooter. And that lobbying lawmakers was a way to make that change.

And that would be “political.”

I’m sympathetic to the argument that public schools should be selective in the way they allow outside groups to use their facilities. And that when you grant access to one group, it makes it hard to turn down other groups.

OK, but school safety is a core concern of schools. You can’t have too much availability for school safety discussions. And saying you can’t discuss the subject freely, because not everybody agrees on what to do, is well, silly, and an abdication of responsibility.

What’s really going on here is bullying. Schools are supposed to teach kids not to give in to bullies. And that the way to overcome bullying is to stand up to bullies and call them what they are.

Instead, the school district is cowering from a small, vocal gun lobby and the elected officials they finance or intimidate into silence.

The Palm Beach County School District is allowing itself to be bullied.

Banning assault weapons, in school or elsewhere, isn’t controversial at all. Not only are most Floridians for it, but most Republican Floridians are for it. And even most Floridian gun owners are for it.

At least according to a poll conducted three months ago by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. It found most Floridians, regardless of their politics were for banning assault weapons, and not for arming teachers.

So there’s already a consensus of what to do. It’s just not in the best interests of the small, but vocal NRA and the gun manufacturers they represent.

It’s not as if the canceled forum at the suburban Boca Raton high school was going to be a gathering of radicals.

The invited speakers included two police chiefs, two county commissioners, a school board member and the deputy schools superintendent. The main organizer was former Democratic State Sen. Maria Sachs.

The shortage of Republicans could have been addressed. They’re the ones, in the end, who’ve been bullied the most by the NRA, and deserve our help. Allowing them to cower in silence on this issue, might enable their thoughts-and-prayers game plan, but it doesn’t serve the broader public good.

And who knows? Perhaps, eloquent speakers advocating for the continued robust sales of AR-15s would have been persuasive at the forum. Maybe the students there would have gotten a real-life civics lesson in hearing out dissenting views, and revising their own.

But we got silence instead. Better off not talking about it. Too political.

Concerned parents might call.

It’s the excuse of the bullied.

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