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Parkland teacher who survived shooting calls arming faculty ‘asinine’

Thursday marked the first anniversary of a deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Across the country, Americans paused to observe a moment of silence in honor of the 17 lives lost in the tragedy. Amna Nawaz talks to Sarah Lerner, one of the teachers at school during the crisis, about how she has coped and why having a gun wouldn't have helped her.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was a six-minute shooting spree one year ago that forever changed the community of Parkland, Florida, and spurred a youth-led movement seeking an end to mass shootings and gun violence.

    Today was a moment to remember the lives lost, the people injured, and to look at what's changed since then.

    Amna Nawaz has our story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In Parkland, Florida, a moment of silence for 17 lives lost.

  • Robert Runcie:

    Today is a day that we are calling a day of service and love to honor the victims.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At 10:17 this morning, thousands of students across the state paused, heads bowed, in honor of those killed during last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

    Stoneman Douglas students were dismissed early, leaving school well before the hour of the attack. Some chose not to attend at all, instead taking part in community service. In the year since 17 students and faculty were killed at the suburban Florida high school, Parkland has become synonymous with a cultural and political movement.

    Students, parents, and teachers became activists overnight, successfully pushing for some gun control measures in notoriously gun-friendly Florida. Just weeks after the shooting, then Governor Rick Scott signed a new law, increasing the minimum purchase age to 21, and extending the waiting period to three days.

  • Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.:

    To the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, you made your voices heard. You didn't let up. And you fought until there was change. You helped change our state. You made a difference. You should be proud.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The students sparked a nationwide movement to end mass shootings and enact meaningful gun control. Their rallying cry of never again inspired people to take to the streets last spring in cities across the country.

  • Emma Gonzalez:

    Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands. Fight for your lives, before it's someone else's job.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And communities across the world. In the weeks following the shooting, the March for Our Lives movement galvanized gun control advocates. Congress seemed poised to act. President Trump said he'd consider signing some sort of background check law.

    But, today, a poll from "PBS NewsHour," NPR, and Marist paints a different picture. A year ago, 71 percent of Americans supported stricter gun sale laws. Today, that's dropped to 51 percent. Last year, 52 percent of Americans wanted Congress to make gun control a priority. Today, that's dropped to 42 percent.

    Congress did pass the Fix NICS bill, strengthening existing background checks by rewarding states that successfully share information with the national database. In Washington today, the names of each victim were read on the Senate floor.

  • Florida Senator Rick Scott:

  • Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.:

    One year ago today, these 17 souls were taken from us in a brutal act of violence. Not a day goes by that I don't think about that day and the amazing people that were snuffed out by the deranged actions of a madman.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A thousand miles away in Parkland, calls for action peppered the moments of grief and remembrance.

    Linda Beigel Schulman's son Scott was a teacher at Stoneman Douglas. He was killed in the shooting.

  • Linda Beigel Schulman:

    All of the families from Stand With Parkland, we can talk, and we can explain, and we can have conversations. You have to listen to us, and you have to help us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One year later, the survivors are still making their voices heard. Just last week, they testified on Capitol Hill.

  • Aalayah Eastmond:

    I thought I was going to die. As I laid there, I begged God to please make it fast.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As part of the first hearing on gun violence in eight years.

    Let's hear now from a teacher in the Parkland community.

    Sarah Lerner teaches English and journalism at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She edited a new book called "Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories," a collection of artwork, essays and poems written by over 40 students and teachers who survived the shooting last year.

    I spoke with her yesterday about what this past year has meant for her and her students.

    Sarah Lerner, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for making the time.

    I want to begin by asking you about the fact that it's often said, over time, some memories recede, some get stronger. A year after you survived this shooting, what are some of the strongest memories for you from that day?

  • Sarah Lerner:

    There are so many.

    There are the memories of giving a quiz to my English students, and leaving Hershey Kisses on their desk while they were taking their quiz, because we had joked that I was ruining Valentine's Day for them.

    The memory of hearing the gunshots outside, and running up to my classroom, having to text my husband and my mom that there was an active shooter on cam pus, and I was safe in my room, when my son texted me, because he was at the middle school next door, that he was scared, and he was on lockdown.

    And having to tell your 12-year-old that you're OK and you're not shot, you know, it's things like that that just stay, you know, kind of embedded in your mind.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have written a lot about what the last year has been like for you, what you call your new normal, how you're processing.

    You wrote a line that stuck with me. You said: "The person I was at 2:20 on February 14, 2018, when the fire alarm went off" — that's when the gunshots began — "isn't the same person I became at 2:25, even, when I got back to my classroom."

    When you look back over the last year at everything that has happened since, at the way you have changed, what is different? How are you different a year later?

  • Sarah Lerner:

    There are things that don't matter to me as much anymore as they used to, and then there are things that matter more than anything in the world.

    I cherish time with my husband and my children and my family. But I don't really sweat the small stuff as much as I did before. When my husband and I got married in 2004, I had this, like, thick, three-inch binder, and the rabbi laughed at me, because this is what I went with to our appointment. But my son just had his bar mitzvah in January, and I don't even know that I had everything together the day of. It just all kind of happened.

    So, where I cared about things, you know, to such obsessive detail before, it just doesn't matter anymore. Things are going to work out or they're not, and I will, you know, wear makeup to school or I won't, and I will teach my lesson or I won't.

    You know, it's the little things that matter in the big picture, and that's something that I have realized over the year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In an effort to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, there was this huge state commission investigation, right, that looked into what happened and what led up to the shooting.

  • Sarah Lerner:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    Could it have been prevented in some way?

    I'm curious if you had a chance to go through it. They looked back at some of the things that were errors, right, things that were missed leading up to the shooting, and made some recommendations for what they think could help prevent something like that happening in the future.

    Have you looked at it? What do you think about it? Do you feel any more or less safe today?

  • Sarah Lerner:

    I have not watched the commission hearings, and I haven't read the transcripts. I just feel like it would be too much, and it would just bring it all back for me.

    I do feel safe at school. And I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, since tomorrow makes a year since there was a shooting at my school. But I do feel safe at school. And I feel safe sending my children to school.

    I know that there are recommendations that have been made to arm teachers, and I think that is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard in my life.

    Me having a gun in my classroom wouldn't have helped me that day. And, for any of the teachers who were in that building who got ambushed, there wouldn't have been time for them to access a gun. And a handgun is no match for an AR-15.

    So, for, you know, barely 5-foot-tall me to have a gun in my classroom, it's asinine. And the money and the manpower that would be invested into paying for things like that, programs to train us and the weapons themselves, could be put to better use in additional security at school, armed guards at school, you know, people who are military, former military, police officers.

    I went to college to become a teacher, to be an English teacher, not to be a bouncer or a police officer. And just like a police officer couldn't come in and do my job, I shouldn't be expected to go into my classroom and do theirs.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sarah, one of the differences, we should point out, between you and the students who survived this is that they will move on. They will graduate. They will leave the place at which this happened.

    You will go back. You are going back at one year. You will go back at two, at three. Have you thought about what that will feel like as the years go by?

  • Sarah Lerner:

    I think, at some point, it's going to be very odd. You know, it's funny that you ask this, because, shortly after everything happened, some of my teacher friends and I were talking.

    And, eventually, you know, I will be the only person in my room who was there that day. I will be the only person in the room who, you know, fully understands what we went through and why we behave the way that we do.

    But I know that, as the kids who are on campus graduate, there will be new groups of kids who still have a connection to what happened. My son is in seventh grade. My daughter is in fourth. So, for those of us who have school-aged children or for the students at my school who have younger siblings, you know, cycling through our school, I think there will still be that understanding and that connection. It's just going to be different.

    And there was never a thought in my mind of going to teach anywhere else. This is my third school in 17 years of teaching. I have been at Stoneman Douglas — this is my fifth year. But there's nowhere else I want to go. I'm very happy with my school. I love my school. I love the community. I love what I teach, and I love where I teach.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sarah, we should note we're speaking to you the day before the actual anniversary.

    And a lot of folks from the community wanted to spend the day dark, so to speak, off social media and not giving interviews.

    How are you going to be spending the day on the anniversary?

  • Sarah Lerner:

    I am going to be with some friends. I'm going to get a hot stone massage, and I'm going to get my nails done.

    I am very big in social media. I went offline, so to speak, off the grid, on Monday, and I'm not planning on going back on until Saturday. So I am going to spend tomorrow during the day with friends, spend tomorrow evening with my husband, my children, my brother.

    You know, no Valentine's Day celebrations, but it's important to be surrounded by people who support me and love me and, you know, will help me through whatever difficult time I have tomorrow.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, our thoughts will be with you and with everyone there in the Parkland community.

    Sarah Lerner, of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

  • Sarah Lerner:

    Thank you for having me.

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