U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-District 21) was at the Wellington Community Center with other elected officials Wednesday night to discuss gun violence and gather input from about 150 residents who attended the meeting.
Officials at the table with Frankel included Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86), Wellington Councilman John McGovern, School Board Member Marcia Andrews, Lake Worth Commissioner Herman Robinson and Greg Weiss, who won a seat this week on the Palm Beach County Commission.
“I know you all had a frightening experience at one of your local high schools recently, and there was another tragic incident in Jacksonville,” Frankel said. “We wanted to give the public an opportunity to talk to your elected officials.”
She said that there is no simple solution to gun violence.
“This is not an us-against-them kind of thing, whether it’s better gun regulation, more resources on mental health or community intervention,” Frankel said. “We looked at a lot of ideas, and maybe you have others.”
Bruce Tumin said the United States Supreme Court’s opinion about the Second Amendment said that citizens have the right to bear arms to protect themselves.
“My question is, if we decide to take some people’s rights away, who will protect them?” he asked.
Ari Silver, a student at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton, questioned a person’s right to own any type of gun, versus a young person’s right to live or survive in school.
“I don’t think this encapsulates the fear that students actually have to experience every day going to school,” Silver said. “If somebody knocks on the door too loudly in the classroom, kids look up in fear and they’re scared. I would like to know what the plan is. If we are allowed to live with the crazy guns, what are the plans to effectively reduce gun violence, not just in schools, but in the streets and libraries and anywhere else that people have to gather?”
Keith Santiago, the founder of Saving Our Kids and Neighborhoods, said many of the incidents are gang related.
“This is our children and our safety,” Santiago said. “My question is how do you, the area around here, Wellington, Loxahatchee, Royal Palm Beach and The Acreage, over the last 10 years with the crime increase — what are we doing about the gangs here? It’s something that’s been shoved under the rug for quite some time.”
He said the shooting at Palm Beach Central High School may or may not have been gang related.
“I’m not here to sell my company or what I do because this is not what this is about,” Santiago said. “My question would be, has the school district, in particular, considered putting [programs for] life skills, focus skills, anger management, conflict resolution, adjustment disorders [in place]? It’s not just a great program, but we can’t have uniformed officers working with kids in gangs.”
Nicole DeFlorio of Wellington was there with her son Skylar, 8.
“I work for a school for students with disabilities,” DeFlorio said. “I’ve been in special education for almost 20 years. I come from New York, where we had multiple guidance counselors and school psychologists in every single high school. What I see lacking here in Florida is that psychological support for our students.”
Lillian Khanna, a student at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, was a speaker at March for Our Lives. She said bipartisan solutions are necessary for a workable solution.
“Speaking from a student’s perspective… I know how much the school board does for the students,” Khanna said. “I think one way we can combat this issue is if we advertise what the school board has to offer for the students.”
Chris Moore of Wellington said he and his wife and neighbors attended the football game where the shooting occurred and experienced a dramatic event with people running from the stands.
“My daughter is a cheerleader, and I couldn’t find her,” Moore said. “We were running for our life, panicked, hysterical. It was a mess. As a dad, I look back now and we talk about safety in the schools.”
Moore said he has heard reports of children having to sit on the floor of over-crowded school buses, which he considered a safety concern. “I take [my children] to school because I don’t trust the bus system,” he said.
Moore said more school security is needed at school events to ensure people are safe.
“The fact of the matter is I paid $5 per person to go to the game, and I paid $5 for parking. There were several thousand people there,” he said. “There’s money to be reallocated, maybe, to have a few more officers.”
Bobby Munden of Wellington said the large schools are part of the problem.
“I was on the school advisory board for a number of schools around Wellington, and Dreyfoos as well, for 15 years, so there’s a couple of things I’ve noticed,” Munden said. “The schools are giant. There are 3,000 kids at a lot of schools, and it’s unmanageable. In addition to being unmanageable, it limits the opportunities for the students. There are still only five players on the basketball team. There’s only so many people who work on the yearbook. There’s only so much room in the cafeteria. To cram all of these kids into these schools is asking for trouble.”