“Safety comes before education because you can’t teach dead kids,” Parkland parent says in message for Wisconsin lawmakers

Wisconsin lawmakers passing a two-year budget left one particular office feeling passed over.
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 10:26 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2023 at 10:57 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A recent move by the Wisconsin legislature is causing some outrage across the nation. The move was when lawmakers passed the biennial budget without including money to fund the Office of School Safety. Now, a parent from Parkland, Florida, whose son was shot and killed in school is pleading with Wisconsin legislators to make a change.

Wisconsin lawmakers passing a two-year budget left one particular office feeling passed over.

“I cannot fathom taking away what we know works,” said Director of the Office of School Safety Trish Kilpin.

The purpose of the Office of School Safety, or the OSS, is to prevent tragedies like school shootings, provide robust training to staff and operate a 24/7 safety tip line called Speak Up, Speak Out.

“Our students deserve to be safe, our staff deserve to be safe. And we know what works to prevent violence. We have really earned a reputation of handling tips and handling student concerns effectively and efficiently. So our tips have increased,” said Kilpin.

Since 2020, 7,500 school safety concern tips have come through Speak Up, Speak Out, 3,500 of them from last school year alone. It’s a trend Kilpin says shows the services are sticking with students and working to prevent violence.

Kilpin says some tips are about concerns over weapons at school, threats and mental health concerns. The majority have to do with bullying and harassment.

“We know from when there have been targeted acts of school violence, when school shootings have occurred, they have started with a grievance, an upset, a feeling like you’re being maltreated and no one is helping or appreciating you. When we see our data about bullying, that is important to us,” said Kilpin.

When it comes to training educators around the state, between May of 2022 and August of this year, OSS staff provided trainings in 63 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties reaching more than 6,800 people.

The OSS and all its services were originally funded by federal dollars and grants. But that money will run dry by the end of the 2023-2024 school year. This is largely because the state cut a little more than $2 million from the budget to fund the office.

“We weren’t given any information about that,” said Kilpin. “In fact I was very surprised. I had met with many legislators and members of the joint finance committee to discuss model practices our office was engaging in and received wonderful feedback.”

Kilpin says when the legislature made the cut, people from across the country started to reach out with concerns. One of those people is Max Schachter, a Parkland, Florida, father who lost his 14-year-old son Alex in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school massacre.

Alex Schachter loved high school band and rollercoasters.
Alex Schachter loved high school band and rollercoasters.(Max Schachter)

“We miss Alex everyday, his sisters brother, his mother and I, this has created a hole in our life,” said Schachter. “I’m not a state legislator but they need to fix it to save kids lives. They’re putting politics above children’s safety, and that’s not right.”

Schachter is now a national school safety advocate. He has presented around the country to Congress, leaders of federal agencies and multiple presidents. His efforts have now shifted to Wisconsin.

Max Schachter advocating for school safety around the nation
Max Schachter advocating for school safety around the nation(Max Schachter)

“It’s really inexcusable,” said Schachter. “We aren’t trying to recreate the wheel here. To hear the legislators didn’t understand that and didn’t value the importance of that, it’s really heartbreaking because I know what’s going to happen in the increased numbers of violence that’s going to happen.”

It’s a fight Schachter and Kilpin are now joining forces on, urging lawmakers to pass a new law to secure funding for the OSS.

“If we had one act of violence that could have been prevented, the cost of that is so great that it would be a tragedy,” said Kilpin.

Schachter has a message for Wisconsin lawmakers and an ask.

“Safety comes before education because you can’t teach dead kids,” said Schachter.

The school building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas where the mass shooting happened will be demolished soon. But before that, Schachter is inviting all Wisconsin lawmakers to come tour the site. The building has been left in place since the day it happened. Schachter has recently gone through the building, even sitting in the chair where his son took his last breath. He says lawmakers walking through will show them why the OSS is so important.

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