STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The superintendent of Broward County Schools in Florida is on the line. Robert Runcie oversees the district that includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where a gunman killed 17 people on Valentine's Day and where students return to class this week. Superintendent Runcie, good morning.
ROBERT RUNCIE: Good morning. Good morning, Steve, David.
INSKEEP: How are the students doing?
RUNCIE: You know, I met with a group of the students yesterday and, you know, spent time on a campus. And, you know, they're adjusting as best as they can. We structured - the first few days of school would be half-days. They indicated that they were very appreciative of that. You know, so they're just happy to get back together, to be with their colleagues and begin to, you know, go through the healing process and try to get back to some sense of normalcy.
INSKEEP: Would you tell me a little bit about those meetings with the students? We, of course, have seen and heard them in the media. We've had some of them on the program here. They've been very strong in their public statements. But when you sit down with some students privately and talk with them, do you get clues, cues, things that they say or even expressions, things that they don't say, that gives you a sense of what's on their minds?
RUNCIE: Oh, yeah. You know, students are, you know, brutally honest with you, certainly don't have anything to hide. But they've been pretty straightforward. I know one of the things they mentioned was that the police presence on the first day that they came back, and there were lots of police there, at least 200 to 300, that came from around the county just to show their support. You know, it made them feel anxious and was somewhat overwhelming. That certainly got better the next day. They, you know, gave their opinions about the services that were available, the counseling. They loved the therapy dogs. We had about 40 of them on campus.
We had conversations about testing and how we would make adjustments relative to the state assessments. So we got feedback on that. And, you know, they also began to talk about safety and activism. So voting and registration and, you know, things that they could actually do within the actual school itself, what we could do from a security standpoint.
INSKEEP: Goodness, so much to follow up on there. And here's one thing that seems to relate to school security - I think you just told me that a lot of police officers came to show their support on the first day of school. And rather than feeling reassured, some of the students felt anxious or overwhelmed by that?
RUNCIE: That is - that's correct. And, you know, I think that brought back, you know, some sense of the day of the shooting. There was an enormous response in Broward County. It was - it was very significant, and it looked like almost every law enforcement individual in the county was at this school site. So, you know, it probably brought back some memories of that. But they were appreciative of, you know, the law enforcement, and they understood the intention.
INSKEEP: Oh, sure. Sure, they would say thanks for the - thanks for the gesture, but we're troubled by it. But this gets to a larger question because Florida lawmakers, as you know, are getting ready to vote on a school security plan. There is an effort to get more police in schools and also what's called a school marshal plan - teachers with training - with lots of training - allowed to carry guns in school. Do you favor that?
RUNCIE: No, I don't, and I would say neither do the students. And they provided feedback about that, as well. They also talked about how your teachers felt about it. You know, I think there needs to be a balance, right? So we do need to increase the number of school resource officers, make sure there's appropriate coverage at every single school. But, you know, arming teachers and adding more guns into the population is really not the answer. And I don't think it gets to the root cause of these mass shootings that we have in this country.
INSKEEP: You said school resource officers - we should explain that term, even though we've heard it a lot in recent days. That's a cop on the school grounds is what that is.
RUNCIE: Yes, that's correct.
INSKEEP: OK. So that you're OK with.
RUNCIE: Yes, I am. I - so if we want a greater law enforcement presence and protection on school property, let's add more law enforcement individuals, not arm teachers.
INSKEEP: Now, why - let me just ask because the president has advocated this, other people have - how would you answer the argument that a trained teacher who volunteers to carry the weapon might be useful in an urgent situation?
RUNCIE: Well, what I would say to you is that the teachers, you know - they have enough on their plate. I just can't see - the scenario that that assumes is that you can have some kind of shootout in a school, and that's going to be a deterrent to someone that's determined to come into a school site and begin shooting. I don't see how arming a teacher is going to be a deterrent for that. There was - there's, you know, school resource officers on these campuses. And we still see individuals come on to the properties and start these kind of horrific activities.
INSKEEP: Can I also ask about the activism of the Parkland students? They've been so upfront. They've been in the media, as we mentioned. And they have urged specific reforms and also argued against specific changes like arming teachers in school. What happens if they fail?
RUNCIE: One of the things that we teach our students to do is that, you know, failure is not a bad thing. What you - failure is an opportunity to learn and figure out what you need to do differently in order to be successful. I believe failure is not trying. Our kids are going to be - they're going to be persistent, and they're going to continue their activism. It's not just for today or tomorrow or next year. I think this is something they're going to take into adulthood. And I see a new generation that's going to be more informed. They're going to be more active. And I think they're going to get results and do things that we've failed to get done in our generation.
INSKEEP: Although, in about 20 seconds, I hate to say it, but they're urging that there never be another mass shooting like this. Statistics would suggest there's probably going to be.
RUNCIE: Well, I don't know. I think we have an opportunity to at least begin to minimize the possibility of this occurring. Other countries around the world have figured this out. They have more sensible gun laws than we do. They have better investments in mental health. There's better coordination across agencies in terms of providing services to troubled individuals. So I think it can be done. It's not going to happen overnight, but we need to start.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRACE BUNDY'S "LITURGY")
INSKEEP: Robert Runcie is the superintendent of the Broward County Florida School District, where students returned to school this week. He spoke with us earlier this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.