Andrew Gary and Louisiana Legislature

Andrew Gary (second from left) stands with fellow members of the Louisiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council inside the Louisiana State Capitol.

When a teenager opened gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, 17 lives were lost.

That tragedy compelled Andrew Gary, a senior at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, to improve school safety measures in Louisiana. He wrote an article about the topic for St. Martin’s school newspaper, joined the school safety and security committee and consulted with administrators. He also became a member of the 2018-2019 Louisiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council.

During the last legislative session, Gary championed a bill in the Louisiana Legislature that was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The bill – Senate Bill 43, now Act 44 – aims to enhance school safety protocol through student participation.

“It mandates that every high school principal talks to the student body president, and at least one other student, in regards to their school’s emergency safety plan,” Gary says. “It fits under the community approach that emergency management follows: You talk to all the relevant stakeholders because everybody has a unique perspective.”

Gary and a handful of peers from the advisory council began the process about nine months ago by contacting Edwards’ education policy advisor, along with state representatives, the Louisiana School Board Association and nearly a dozen other organizations.

In May, the bill was passed through the House and the Senate, with no opposition. Edwards signed it June 6.

“Hopefully, starting this school year, schools will start following the law,” says Gary, a competitive swimmer, a member of St. Martin’s debate team and the founder of the school’s Red Cross club.

Gary now is creating a statewide nonprofit advocacy group — the Youth Advocacy Team. But despite the experience he has acquired in government and community service, he only recently considered a career in politics.

“For better or for worse, I'm kind of good at this,” Gary says. “I've built connections, and now that I'm starting my own advocacy group, it's sort of becoming inevitable that I'm on this path.”