Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie heard the outrage of parents and students Wednesday night during a forum to discuss school safety in the aftermath of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz’s rampage on February 14 that killed 17 and left 17 more wounded.
Runcie admitted the district was going through a “journey” after the shooting, saying, “We hadn’t really thought how we would plan for something like this. We are in some ways learning as we go through the process.”
Angry students and parents lashed out at Runcie and a panel of school officials – several calling for his dismissal and the election of a new school board – during the forum held just one week after the board unanimously voted not to allow armed school employees per a new state law.
Parents and students were allowed one minute each during the forum to address their concerns about the security of the district’s schools and its school disciplinary policies. Many expressed outrage that Cruz – despite an extensive history of violence and threats – had never been expelled or arrested. Without those red flags appearing in a background check to warn authorities, the shooter was able to obtain a firearm.
Runcie also admitted families of the shooting victims have not received “the kind of outreach that they should have” from district officials.
Most who attended the emotionally charged forum were not only enraged that Cruz was able to accomplish the shooting of so many individuals without interference by law enforcement, but also that school officials remain unresponsive to security concerns in the district’s schools, even after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School.
One MSD student confronted Runcie with his assertion that he has attended four Broward County schools and only saw Runcie for the first time recently at a gathering for a shooting victim.
“You said we don’t need to arm teachers with guns, we need to arm them with more money in their pockets,” the student said. “Yet teacher salaries have been frozen for the past eight years or so, and you have been cutting their benefits year after year.”
“My question for you is, ‘Did you do everything in your power before the tragedy happened at MSD to prevent it from happening, and will you do everything in your power to prevent this from happening in every other Broward County school?’” he asked.
“My answer to that is, unequivocally, yes,” Runcie replied.
Several parents were outraged that the school district ignored offers of free security upgrades prior to the shooting on February 14. Other parents and students asserted security was inconsistent across schools in the district.
Two female students from Charles Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines described a fearful situation when a student with a knife threatened 20 fellow students. The two students said the school failed to address their concerns about the incident and that the student with the knife was suspended, but then simply returned to school.
Another student said the new clear backpack policy put in place since the shooting was not being enforced. She said she decided to test security by also bringing to school a side bag that was not clear. The student told school officials at the forum that security personnel never even checked her side bag.
“Why do we have clear backpacks if they aren’t being enforced?” she asked. “Why do we have BSO everywhere if they aren’t doing their job and just seem to be hanging around our campus?”
Many parents and students were angry that they received no responses from Runcie or his office to their emails containing concerns or questions.
While two students from the district’s PROMISE program – an Obama-era program aimed at ending the “school-to-prison pipeline” for black, Hispanic, LGBT, and disabled students – defended the program as one that gave them a second chance, many at the forum wanted answers to why Cruz had never been expelled or arrested.
Runcie has said assertions that his PROMISE program is connected to the shooting are “fake news” because Cruz did not participate in that program.
RealClearInvestigations, however, reported Cruz was enrolled in the district’s Behavior Intervention Program – a program for students “returning from residential Juvenile Justice Programs,” including students “convicted of a serious crime such as: rape, murder, attempted murder, sexual battery or firearm related” and those whose behavior off campus would qualify them for expulsion.
At the school safety forum, Runcie said he has no knowledge of Cruz’s being involved in the Behavior Intervention Program.
Student Support Initiatives Executive Director Michaelle Pope described the behavioral support programs as “complex.” She said the programs in place are in compliance with federal and state laws, local law enforcement, and child protection agencies. Pope added the school district’s policies are also monitored by external “child advocacy” groups such as the ACLU, the NAACP, gay-rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
After describing both the PROMISE and Behavior Intervention Programs, Pope said, “There is a very different process that must occur if a child has a disability.”
Pope said students identified as “disabled” are treated differently – via state statute – when they have behavior problems.
“Students with disabilities cannot be suspended or expelled from school for more than ten days per year without the provision of a free and appropriate public education,” she continued at the safety forum.
The Weekly Standard reported last week that Pope, referring to Cruz, who was in a special education program, said, “This is not an average student. He has a disability.”
One student announced his belief that only more restrictive gun control laws would bring about greater safety. When he asked Runcie how greater gun control could be enacted, Runcie encouraged him to register to vote and vote for people who have been calling for restrictions on gun rights.