TEL AVIV, Israel – Gov. Ron Desantis and South Florida lawmakers finished a packed first day on an historic trade mission to Israel on Monday. They are forging partnerships and learning about what Israel does best, including school security.
The subject is of particular interest to the delegation after a gunman killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen others last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Ideas about how to strengthen security at Florida schools has been a major issue for the past two legislative sessions in Tallahassee.
Lawmakers passed through checkpoints in and out of the West Bank. Security measures included authorities boarding buses and performing checks, armed guards and dogs. These stringent measures are standard as street lights in Israel. The government is always on guard for enemies with whom they share space.
On Monday, DeSantis signed the first of several partnerships between Israeli and Florida universities at Ariel University. The delegation also sized up its security.
"As at any university in Israel, you’ll find that there is security or more so as any place in Israel. There are things that you do see and don’t see," said Nicole Greenspan of Ariel University.
Several lawmakers went for a first-hand lesson to see how Israel protects its schools, including Florida Sen. Lauren Book, who was involved in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting.
"It’s very clear that the security officers were armed. It was visible. It was a visible presence," Book said.
Armed guards are part of every Israeli child’s routine. All schools have them. Campuses have single guarded entries and coordinated communications systems.
"They’re not so concerned about kids bringing weapons into schools as they are about folks around trying to cause harm," Book said.
State Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County added: "Over here, they are not afraid to call out bad behavior. I mean, part of what we saw with Nikolas Cruz was a culture of trying to look the other way."
Gedaliah Blum, a father of five, framed the dilemma of living in a school police state.
"I hate guns. I hate seeing anything militarized. But I also like to wake up in the morning and breathe and I like to see my children wake up and breathe."
Some of the things that the lawmakers learned Monday are expected to be taken to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Commission.