Some Allegany County school district students and staff members have many words to describe their feelings about the upcoming anniversary of a horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida.
"Surprised" isn't one of them.
Valentine's Day will mark one year since a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left 14 students and three staff members dead, and injured 17 other people.
Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19 at the time, was identified as the gunman. He later confessed to being the perpetrator and was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
For Robby May—who teaches Fort Hill High School classes including US Government & Politics and AP World History—the Parkland tragedy provides varying perspectives.
May is also a volunteer paramedic with Corriganville Volunteer Fire Department and teaches emergency medical services for the University of Maryland.
"I remember the day of the Parkland shooting well, but mostly because I had participated in a summer teacher fellowship and had become close friends with another teacher who teaches at Parkland," May said via email.
"Luckily, she and her immediate students survived, however she has been forever scared by the events."
He said he "was not surprised" to learn of the Parkland events and added that gun violence in US schools for many people seems to have become the norm.
"If it weren't acceptable, we would have worked to eliminate the root causes over the last 20 years since Columbine and ... Sandy Hook Elementary," he said.
May said his students are often unfazed by news of school shootings.
"It has literally become part of the psychology of all those who attend and work in schools," he said. "It is incredibly sad that when on the first few days of school, when I am actively working to get my students excited about our studies this year, I have to take time to talk about where we 'run, hide and fight' in the event of (an) assailant in the building and where Mr. May's trauma bag and EMS radio are in the classroom."
He talked of an ingenious product invented by the school's technology education students "to keep our classroom doors from opening" in the event of a shooting emergency.
Gun issues and school safety are separate policy areas, but both need desperate attention, he said.
"It is complete insanity to me that the General Assembly will not allocate the funding for a School Resource Officer in every school," May said. "This burden cannot be solely placed on the individual counties."
In the EMS world, May said he prepares for active shooter events.
"In recent years, many of us have begun to take specialized training such as Tactical Casualty Combat Care," he said. "Soon, every ambulance in the county will have bulletproof vests for EMS. This is a day that in my 15 years in EMS, I never thought would come to Allegany County. At the end of the day, we hope that this type of thing never happens here, but when you saw the shooting occur in St. Mary's County last year, a county with many similarities to our own, it hits close to home."
He said he supports background checks, waiting periods and keeping guns out of the hands of felons and mentally disabled or unstable people.
"At the end of the day, there is no simple fix-it to this incredibly complicated issue," May said. "However, the first thing that has to occur is a true desire from the citizenry to make change ... We do not work for the government, the government works for us."
Allegany High School senior and student member of the local board of education Eesha Bokil, 17, said some students are concerned about school safety and desire action toward making school a safe environment.
Fort Hill High School senior Trey Bishop, 17, recalled how the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary effected him.
"I remember being so confused and distraught about how a human could do something so evil," he said.
His school holds lockdown drills to prepare students "for what we all hope will never happen," he said. "I think it is a good thing, and I believe it is a good way to minimize death if a shooting were to occur."
School shootings "shouldn't be so politicized," Trey said.
"It should just be the American people working together to fix a problem," he said.
Omaer Naeem, 16, is a junior at Allegany.
"The wide publicity of school shootings has taught me to be open to any hint of abnormality," he said. "School shootings have made me an adamant advocate for gun control as well as increasing awareness and lessening the stigma behind mental health."
Preparations in the form of practice drills at his school have been ineffective, Omaer said.
"Many students don't listen and don't care, frankly," he said. "That's why I believe school drills need not be on a schedule."
Omaer said it would be beneficial to have a school or county-wide psychologist on staff.
"Students need to understand that it's okay not to be okay," he said.
The Allegany County board of education is considering whether to place a resource officer in each of the district's schools, and enhance mental health services, as part of its Fiscal 2020 budget.
Matt Marlowe, Allegany County Public Schools interim coordinator for student support services, is primarily responsible for school safety, issues related to bullying and dropout prevention.
ACPS has eight filled and one open school resource and safety officer positions. The officers cover the district's 22 schools on a rotational basis.
"When the Parkland shooting occurred, I was teaching high school students, and of course many students expressed concern and fear of something like that happening in our school," he said via email. "Two things I tried to convey to my students were, first, mass school shootings are extremely rare despite the impression left by media coverage of such tragedies. Second, these tragedies could possibly be prevented if you stay alert, pay attention to the small things, and report—anything that doesn't seem right—to an adult."
He said many district staff members have received training from the Maryland State Police, Cumberland Police Department and Allegany County Sheriff's Office.
"The training is commonly called 'Run, Hide, Fight' active shooter training," he said.
"One commonality in nearly all mass school shootings, including Parkland, is that there were red flags that were missed, that, given the proper attention, may have helped prevent the tragedy," Marlowe said. "For that reason, it's important that students, parents, and the community report suspicious activity or potential threats."
ACPS, in cooperation with the Maryland Center for School Safety, monitors the recently launched Safe Schools Tip Line, which can be used to anonymously report potential threats to local schools, he said.
"The tip line is available by calling 833-MD-B-SAFE, visiting their website at safeschoolsmd.org, or by downloading the SafeSchoolsMD app in the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store," Marlowe said. "We take all reports received through the tip line and in the schools seriously and work with local law enforcement to investigate every report."