Palm Beach County public school leaders have pulled the plug on a school safety forum scheduled Monday at Olympic Heights High School, saying the event’s title appeared to link it to a nationwide movement for tighter gun control.
The forum at the high school west of Boca Raton was titled “Town Hall for Our Lives” and was intended to be focused on school safety. Approved by the school district last month, it was to feature two police chiefs, two county commissioners, a school board member and the deputy schools superintendent.
But this week, school administrators said they learned that the event’s name was identical to that of a series of gun control events organized around the country in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in February.
“We were clear that it could not be partisan in nature and had to focus on school safety and mental health,” said Amity Schuyler, the school district’s chief of staff. “We had concerned parents start calling us yesterday, bringing to our attention the associated political perceptions with the title.”
Concerned about participating in an event nominally associated with gun control activists, the school district told the event’s main organizer, former Democratic state Sen. Maria Sachs, that it was cancelling the event.
The title “created a perception of partisanship surrounding the Monday event that we did not think we could realistically overcome to be able to proceed in good faith and in partnership with Sen. Sachs,” Schuyler said.
Reached Friday, Sachs said that the school district was aware of the event’s title when it approved it last month.
Those scheduled to appear included three elected Democratic officials: School Board member Frank Barbieri and Palm Beach County Commissioners Mary Lou Berger and Melissa McKinlay.
The chiefs of the school district and Boca Raton police departments also were scheduled to appear, along with two high-ranking school district administrators. No elected Republican officials were on the schedule.
Also planning to attend were some students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Sachs said, where 17 people were shot dead by a former student on Feb. 14.
“There are a number of students who are extremely upset,” Sachs said. “They were really looking forward to having this discussion.”
Sachs said she used the name for continuity with other gun-safety events she had helped to organize recently, but she said the event was intended to focus on school security, not gun control.
“Everything was fine until today,” she said. “Nothing has changed. This was not ever designed to be anything about guns. It was focused on school security.”