South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | September 27, 2021
Three and a half years after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, the Broward school district remains slow to address school safety issues and needs more oversight, the chair of the commission investigating the tragedy said Monday.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County blasted the school district multiple times during a meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, formed after a former student murdered 17 people in the Parkland school on Feb. 14, 2018.
Gualtieri, the commission’s chair, said the school district is violating a state law by refusing to share information with law enforcement related to students who attend Promise, an alternative-to-arrest program.
He said the district is still failing to properly conduct behavior threat assessments of students at risk of harming themselves and others. A recent audit found widespread problems with timeliness and follow-up for students at risk.
Gualtieri also said the School Board approved a plan on how families were notified in the event of a school shooting only two weeks ago, after he called and asked for a copy. He said the district administrators prepared a plan when they thought it would be required by law. When the law didn’t pass, the plan was shelved, he said.
“To say it’s unacceptable is an understatement. It’s mind-boggling,” Gualtieri said. “All of this tells me there has to be ongoing oversight to produce the right amount of accountability. Doing business this way, what message does this send to the parents of the kids in Broward County?”
Gualtieri said the commission will discuss Broward’s actions more on Tuesday, the second day of the commission meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. It’s the first time the group has met in person since 2019, due to the pandemic.
Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright is scheduled to address the commission Tuesday. Most of the commission’s complaints involved decisions made during the tenure of former Superintendent Robert Runcie.
“She is currently reviewing a number of decisions and practices in which [Broward County Public Schools] has previously engaged, and looks forward to hearing the input from the MSD Commission Chair and Commission members,” the office of Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch said in a statement.
Broward School Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at Stoneman Douglas, attended Monday’s meeting and said she shares Gualtieri’s frustrations and desired for some kind of state oversight board.
“I”m all for it,” Alhadeff said after the meeting “We’re an extremely large school district, and things aren’t always followed with fidelity across the school district. To have that oversight is really important.”
The commission has been highly critical of the school district’s response to the tragedy and efforts to improve safety. Commission members complained the district was slow to investigate administrators for their role in the tragedy, slow to enact a districtwide lockdown procedure and slow to implement spaces in schools where kids could hide if a shooter came.
Commission members Monday were especially concerned about the district’s resistance to sharing information with law enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office. State law says that diversion programs must enter student information into a state website so that police can see if a child committed a crime on campus but wasn’t arrested.
The district’s Promise program was created to help students avoid jail time for non-violent misdemeanors, such as vandalism and theft. The district maintained it didn’t need to share information because Promise wasn’t a diversion program, as defined by the state, but was an “alternative to suspension program.”
The law was clarified this year, and starting in July, programs, including Promise, had to report the data, Gualtieri said.
“Guess what? Broward ain’t doing it,” he said “They’re still taking the position that they don’t have to do it.”
Alhadeff said Cartwright plans to recommend that the School Board change its policy to comply with the law.