Debbi Hixon lost her husband Chris three years ago Sunday when he tried to disarm a former student who entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a semi-automatic rifle. Seventeen people died at the South Florida school; 17 other people were injured.
A lifelong Broward County resident, Hixon worked through her pain, winning a countywide School Board seat in November. The former high school science teacher turned on her laptop recently to participate in an email interview. She discussed her plans for the school system. Hixon also addressed comments Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made about school shootings. Greene has called the Parkland shooting a “false-flag” event. A false-flag event is an action committed by one party but designed to appear to be carried out by others. A video has also surfaced showing Greene harassing David Hogg, a former student who survived the shooting.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, (R-GA), has made controversial statements about school shootings, including the one at Parkland almost three years ago. You lost your husband in that attack. What would you like to tell Rep. Greene about school shootings and the loss your family and you endured?
I don’t feel the need to explain that school shootings are real, I live the reality everyday when I wake up without my husband next to me and I go though the daily struggles of caring for a special needs son alone. These are not staged events, people are actually killed and ripped from their families’ lives. My husband left for work on Valentine’s Day 2018, he told us to wait for him so he could go to church with us that night as it was Ash Wednesday. He never came home, that is a fact; nothing staged about it and a reality we live with each and every day. I lost my life partner and my children lost their father. This tragedy affects us every day; we have separation anxiety, loud sounds make us drop to the ground, and panic attacks are frequent. The one person who could make our family always feel safe is now gone because someone executed him. Now it is hard to feel safe, ever!
Do guns kill people? Or do people kill people?
They are used in society today as a symbol of power and a way to cause fear in others. School shooters often want to show others they have value and they are powerful, so they decide to shoot up their school. They don’t choose knives, explosives, or other types of weapons, they choose guns, often guns that are easily accessible to them. People say guns don’t kill, people do. I say people with guns kill people when they are able to access guns easily, they are in a mental health crisis, and want to take it out on someone else.
What do you want the residents of the northwest Georgia Congressional district to know about the consequences of Rep. Greene’s words and deeds?
Even after meeting with families that lost someone in the Majory Stoneman Douglas shooting, Rep. Greene was reluctant to recognize the reality of mass school shootings and the devastation these events cause entire communities. Her remarks caused great pain to the families who suffer everyday without their loved ones and her claims that these events never occurred makes it very difficult for her to join the efforts to prevent them. I do not believe she will use good judgement in making decisions that will affect the residents of Northwest Georgia. I hope you will find someone to run against her in the next election as I understand she was unopposed in this election. A congressional leader should be able to look at situations and vote for what is best for the country, I don’t believe Rep. Greene has the ability to do that.
Imagine Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is in front of you now. What would you tell him about his leadership skills in light of how he has handled Rep. Greene?
By not disciplining Rep. Greene, it appears to me you decided that what she said was okay and you condone the idea that there are no threats to our nation’s schools and that you don’t support actions to stop these threats. Instead of being a leader and taking action against someone who continues to support conspiracy theories, you decided to do nothing and that speaks volumes about your leadership. As a leader, I hoped that you would have taken Rep. Greene off the committees and shown that you care about all Americans. I am very disappointed.
Rep. Greene sat on the House Committee on Education and Labor until mostly Democrats voted to remove her from her committee assignments. What do you think about the many Republicans who voted to let her continue working on the Education and Labor Committee?
I am disappointed in them, but not surprised. As I mentioned earlier, leaders should have condemned her actions and held her accountable for the things she said. They should have realized she would not be able to serve on the education committee to work towards ensuring our schools are safe when she doesn’t believe they are in danger in the first place.
Before the Feb. 4 vote to revoke her committee assignments, Rep. Greene made a somewhat contrite speech in the House chamber. But the next day, press reports indicate she lambasted the “morons” who removed her. She also discussed how she would exploit her punishment by playing a victim of Democrats who took away her Free Speech rights. What is your reaction to her swift shift from an offer of contrition to defiance?
I would say this is indicative of her true personality, she has said on many occasions that she will never back down. She tried to make a case to keep her committee appointments by saying she didn’t believe any of the conspiracy theories anymore and was enlightened, but once that was gone, she went back to her real truth. She doesn’t see the bigger picture of how what she said affects others. Someone that selfish should not be making decisions on how to keep our schools safe, nor how to improve the learning conditions to ensure the health, safety and success of our schools.
You decided to run for a countywide seat on the Broward County School Board. You won your election this past November. How is your new job going after spending years as a public school teacher?
I am so excited to be the new Countywide School Board Member in Broward County. I have been in this school system for 32 years as a teacher as well as a magnet coordinator, and I am honored to have the opportunity to now be a leader and make decisions that ensure our students are getting the high-quality instruction they all deserve. I know how dedicated teachers are to their students and I know that when we take care of our teachers, they will take care of our students. I have to say, it is quite a learning curve going from the classroom to the boardroom, but I feel comfortable in my new position and I am enjoying learning more about the many moving parts of our district. I am excited to work with our community and schools to make a positive impact and help ensure we are providing a high-quality education for all our students.
How can we protect schools from gun violence?
I believe the perimeter of the school should be secure. Once that is in place, it will be much harder for someone to get into the school to do harm. The single point of entry ensures only the people cleared to be in school enter the campus. Keeping exterior gates locked keeps unwanted people out and is at the very least a deterrent for people wanting to come onto campus to hurt others. I am also an advocate for Red Flag Laws, Universal Background Checks and Safe Storage Laws. People who are a threat to themselves or others should not have access to firearms. Many school shooters got their firearm from their home or from someone they knew. We must educate people to store their firearms safely and make sure they are not accessible to others, especially children.
What can you do to promote better access to mental health support?
I will continue to advocate for more counselors who will be able to interact more directly with students and staff in need of assistance. I think it is important to share the resources that are available often and make them easily accessible. Our district has hosted a number of mental health town halls and workshops; I support these efforts and will work to continue offering these to our students, staff and community members. We must talk about mental heath and check on each other so that it is no longer a stigma to discuss but something we see as a true health concern. In the time of COVID, it is hard to reach our students and check in on them, but we must do everything we can to ensure they are ok through phone calls, text and even home visits. They must not think they are alone; we have to ensure they know someone cares and where to access the resources they would benefit from.
You have been through a lot. So have the people in this country. Are you optimistic or pessimistic? And why?
I am always optimistic, I know that if today is not a good day, tomorrow will be better. I try to stay positive and move forward in ways that will make a positive difference for others. I have been through a lot, but I have also been blessed with so much and I focus on the good most of the time. I know that it is important for me to be a good role model for my children, even if they are adults. I can’t get stuck in the darkness, I have to look for the light to keep moving forward and live my best life; I am sure that is what Chris would want for all of us.
You started your first term on the School Board in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. How are students, teachers, and staff doing? How has Covid-19 affected your job?
I think everyone is struggling and just trying to do the best they can to get to the other side of this global pandemic. With the hope of the vaccine, I am confident that the feeling of despair and social isolation will be eased as more people are able to get the vaccination. COVID has affected my job in many ways. We now have meetings through TEAMS and we are not able to have many of the in-person activities that are traditional for our school system. Many people are still uncomfortable coming into the schools, so the focus is on ensuring we are following the safety protocols of the CDC and helping the public see past the fear and encourage them to return to our school buildings. I think the biggest effect COVID has had on my job as school board member is that everything is still so uncertain, and things change often. Flexibility and understanding are key as we continue to work collaboratively to ensure our students are getting the best education and that our students and staff are safe. On the positive side, students and teachers have learned so many new technological skills and I believe this will help them in the global workplace, which requires these skills to be successful.
Do you want to share a tribute that was written about Chris?
Yes. His loss also affected an entire community, as is beautifully conveyed in this post from a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas: “At various times during his tenure, Chris coached five different sports, without supplemental pay, as coaching vacancies went unfilled. Rather than having to cancel seasons, Chris stepped up and did what needed to be done to help the kids. The athletes on his teams spoke of the leadership and life lessons Coach Hixon imparted to them; how he inspired them, gave them confidence, and made them better human beings. He treated his athletes as if they were his own children, he cared for them so much. It was this dedication to students and to sports that inspired his colleagues in the Broward County Athletic Association to honor Chris as Athletic Director of the Year in 2017.
“A caring, dedicated, passionate man, Chris always did whatever needed to be done, both in school and in life. Chris was a 27-year Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf in Desert Storm and Desert Shield as well as in the Reserves afterward. He was a loving, dedicated husband to Debbi and a wonderful father to Tom (Semper Fi) and special needs son, Corey, who was a regular at MSD sporting events.
“Chris was widely known to keep peanut M & M’s on his desk for whoever might want them. Many adults and students would drop by each day not only to talk to Chris but to enjoy this snack he so thoughtfully provided.
“On Feb. 14, Chris heard the unmistakable sound of shots being fired and rushed into the 1200 building, unarmed, without thinking of his own safety. He wanted to do what needed to be done to protect students and staff members during this horrific event. Even though our one-armed person on campus cowardly hid behind a stairwell for 45 minutes, at least four of those minutes while shots were being fired, Chris didn’t. That desire to do what needed to be done to protect the people he loved so much cost him his life.”