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Broward Schools Chief Dealing With How To Resume, Rebuild

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The suspect in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Wednesday has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Fourteen of those who died were students. Three were faculty members. Robert Runcie is the superintendent of the Broward County school district where the school is located, and we have him on the line right now.

Mr. Superintendent, thank you so much for taking the time. I hope you know that a lot of people in the country are thinking about your community right now.

ROBERT RUNCIE: Yes. We've received an overwhelming amount of support, calls, acts of kindness. I want to thank everyone across the country for your prayers for us, for your support for the victims and their families. That is our focus. That's what we are working on at the moment.

GREENE: It sounds like you're on the road. I wonder where you're going and how you're spending your day today.

RUNCIE: Yes. So today, I am attending a couple funerals for students. And I'm also meeting with legislators to work on securing additional funding for mental health services, and I think we have a good opportunity at this moment to be able to do that. Secondly, we're also looking for resources to reconstruct the building. We cannot have our students going back into the building where the incident occurred. We had over 900 students that were taking classes in that particular facility, so we're trying to secure a special appropriation with the board of the leadership in our legislature to be able to get funding to build another facility on the campus.

GREENE: So you don't want any students ever returning to class in the place where this took place.

RUNCIE: Well, there are two challenges there. One, yes, students and families have told us that that would be their desire. It's been too traumatic for our students to be able to have to go back and relive that tragedy. Secondly, my understanding from our state attorney's office is that building will actually be a site for evidence and may be actually part of any type of legal proceedings that continue into the future, so we won't be able to access that building possibly for a number of years.

GREENE: Years.

RUNCIE: For the long - yeah.

GREENE: So how long will students be out of class?

RUNCIE: So we are actually spending the next couple days figuring out the logistics of how that would work. Our plan is to try to get back to some sense of normalcy next week, but we will not be able to make that determination until possibly tomorrow. Again, we will spend the next, you know, couple days - 48 hours - figuring out the logistics of how, you know, we resume school, what that looks like, so that's - some more information to come on that.

GREENE: OK, and I guess we should say, this is a high school that has several different buildings, and you're talking about the building where, mostly, it's freshman where this took place. You don't want to use that building if you can help it.

RUNCIE: That is correct. That's building 12. It's actually the newest building on the campus. I believe it's - you know, it's several years old, but it's the newest building on this campus.

GREENE: I want to ask you - you have made some news nationally in the last couple days calling quite vocally for gun control legislation in the days since this shooting. And, you know, as an educator, are you concerned about wading into what is an incredibly contentious political debate, you know, at this very sensitive time?

RUNCIE: I - yeah, you know, I see this as a higher calling than just being a political debate. It's about protecting the lives and the future of our children. I have students in Broward County who are very vocal about this topic. They are asking us to speak up on their behalf. They're sending emails. They're leveraging social media. Today, we have students at one of our high schools - South Broward High School, in particular - who are actually doing their own protests on it. So the next generation is pretty vocal that this has to stop.

I heard yesterday that since Sandy Hook, we've had over 400 people shot in over 200 school shootings, and the numbers continue. I - there's - I've been - countless numbers this year so far across the country. So, you know, I think we need to have a real, serious dialogue in this country that transcends political divide so we can get to some common-sense gun laws that allow us to really be able to make this country a safer place for students so that, you know, guns don't continue to claim lives of our precious children and babies.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about, well, the - crossing the political divide. I mean, we had a Republican congressman on the show this morning, Brian Mast. He's a Republican. He used to live right near the high school, actually. And he said that, you know, he's open to conversations about new gun control measures, but that it's a much more complicated problem. It's about much tighter security at schools. It's about re-examining cultural influences and Hollywood, what he says is promotion of violence. Do you agree that it's a larger conversation about a lot of different things?

RUNCIE: You know, that - there's certainly always some truth to it. It is a complicated issue, lots of factors in it, but I'll say this. You know, you can create a prison and try to put - and secure every single thing that you want and try to put the kids in there. And, you know, at some point, our students actually have to leave the campus. They have to be out in the community. There is no foolproof solution in terms of, you know, facility measures, and of course, we're going to do what we can to create single point of entry, make sure that we train our teachers and our students, which we do extensively.

And I can tell you from the - what we've observed from video, our teachers and students performed amazingly well in terms of following the drills and the training that we've been providing in our district on how to handle emergency situations. Our schools actually going - you know, have been going through active-shooter training drills, as well. So we do what we can, but the bottom line is, why do people need assault rifles to the extent that they can, and how do you get access to firearms so easily in this country? We probably have more firearms than we have people in the Unites States.

GREENE: A lot of difficult questions to answer. Robert Runcie is the superintendent of the Broward County school district. Thank you so much for your time, and we're thinking about your community.

RUNCIE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.