Commission Clears Obama-Era PROMISE Program of Blame for Broward Shooting

Nikolas Cruz appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

A Florida commission says the Obama-era PROMISE social justice program that allowed threatening and assaultive students identified as minorities to avoid normal channels of school discipline is not to blame for the Parkland school massacre in February by confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz.

The state commission, which consists of law enforcement officers, public officials and parents of the murdered children, is led by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County. Gualtieri said Broward County school district’s handling of Cruz’s failure to show up for the PROMISE program after vandalizing a school restroom in 2013 was irrelevant to his alleged killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The sheriff said that, because Cruz was a juvenile first-offender, even if he had been arrested immediately for his actions rather than referred to the PROMISE program, nothing would have prevented him from purchasing a firearm four years later.

“The referral of Cruz to the PROMISE program is inconsequential, as far as this commission is concerned because the evidence is the PROMISE program had no bearing on the outcome, no bearing on Cruz’s ability to buy, possess firearms,” he said, reports the Sun Sentinel. “It had no bearing on what he did on Feb. 14, 2018. So, it is immaterial. There’s a lot of room for discussion on the PROMISE program and pre-arrest diversion programs in general, but it has no bearing on the outcome here.”

“I’m going to suggest to you that this is something we can make recommendations on, but overall, this is something we can put to rest and move on from,” Gualtieri added.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd agreed, though he referred to the PROMISE program as a “train wreck” that permitted students such as Cruz “bite after bite of the apple.”

“I don’t think the event in and of itself — breaking off a faucet — had anything at all to do with the shooting later on,” Judd said.

The announcement comes after Broward school officials first denied Cruz had ever been assigned to the PROMISE program and then admitted he, in fact, had been referred as a middle school student following his vandalism of the school restroom, but failed to attend the program.

When the controversy erupted over the fact that, despite an extensive history of violence, assaults, and threats, Cruz evaded arrest and was able to obtain a firearm, Broward superintendent Robert Runcie wrote in March, “Contrary to media reports, the district has no record of Nikolas Cruz committing a PROMISE eligible infraction or being assigned to PROMISE while in high school.”

Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, however, told Breitbart News, “Runcie’s careful formulation contains a falsehood, several omissions, and obfuscations. It doesn’t cover middle school, where Cruz racked up about two dozen offenses and was transferred into an intensive behavior management school – without ever getting an arrest record.”

In 2016, when Cruz wrote the work “kill” in a notebook, the school district conducted a threat assessment to evaluate if he was dangerous to himself or others.

“We … have been one of the few districts that had such a thorough, laid-out plan for threat assessment,” district official Mary Claire Mucenic said, according to the Sentinel.

However, Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed in the shooting, said, “I would gauge your success based on how many children are in the cemetery right now. I would not call this a success.”

According to the Sentinel:

It’s unclear why just a single threat assessment was done on Cruz, despite multiple instances of disturbing behavior. After the murders, students said publicly they told teachers or administrators about Cruz making threats or acting inappropriately, such as bringing dead animals to school or showing off bullets.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, said the Cruz threat assessment was conducted in late September 2016, just before Cruz turned 18. Then Cruz exercised his right as an adult to withdraw from special education services, he said.

Cruz “basically walked away,” and so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to engage him in follow up, Gualtieri said.

“The commission has declared PROMISE a “red herring” and shifted blame to the killer’s mom,” Eden tells Breitbart News. “It’s certainly true that a conviction for vandalism in 8th grade wouldn’t have been a fire-arm prohibior. That said, it would be nice if they’d focus on the ‘no record of’ part of the school district’s deceptive denial. Students have reported telling administrators of multiple felonies, of which there is no record. This is at a school where an apparent rape received a 3-day suspension, in a district known for serial leniency and non-reporting.”

In June, the Broward County school board defended the PROMISE program, claiming the number of students participating in the program and the number of repeat offenders has declined.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves. I think it’s pretty powerful the information,” board member Patricia Good said, according to local 10, an ABC affiliate. “The alternative the future for many of these students without promise would not be promising.”

“It’s unfortunate that this tragedy we’ve had has been politicized,” Runcie also said.

The PROMISE program allows eligible students belonging to certain minority groups who commit any of 13 misdemeanors at school to avoid suspension, expulsion, and arrest. Instead, these students receive “restorative justice” counseling in “talking circles” and other forms of therapy.

The PROMISE collaborative agreement justifies the special treatment for these students by specifically mentioning that “students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are disproportionately impacted by school-based arrests for the same behavior as their peers.”

The PROMISE program was launched by Runcie, who had worked in Chicago for former Obama-era Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Runcie’s program likely inspired the Obama administration’s national school discipline policy that was aimed at ending the “school to prison pipeline.” Ultimately, the administration coerced school districts into allowing behavior by minority students that normally would have resulted in suspension, expulsion, or arrest to go unreported. Districts were threatened with the possibility of federal investigation and loss of funding if their statistics showed disproportionately more minority students arrested and suspended.

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