Florida lawmakers reacted to the deadly Parkland shooting by allowing certain teachers to carry firearms at school, but instructors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School won’t be able to participate.
The Broward County school board voted Tuesday against taking part in the newly enacted Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named for a popular coach who died in the Feb. 14 massacre that killed 17 people.
The vote came at an emotional, contentious meeting that saw parents and students upbraid the board and superintendent Robert Runcie for failing to improve school safety, and accuse the school system of creating a dangerous climate with policies aimed at avoiding suspensions, expulsions and arrests.
Mr. Runcie announced that the school district would hold an April 18 community forum on school safety at Plantation High School to provide information and updates on school safety, mental health services, counseling and support services, and funding.
Kenneth Preston, a 19-year-old senior, charged the board with sitting on badly needed safety funding, saying the district had only spent about 5 percent of the $104 million designated to improve safety from an $800 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2014.
He said he had a two-hour meeting with Mr. Runcie and about 10 school officials on his report, but that he was not permitted to bring legal representation.
“Something doesn’t smell quite right in Broward, and this school district is the epicenter,” Mr. Preston told the board at the meeting in Fort Lauderdale.
Many of the complaints were aimed at the district’s PROMISE program, which seeks to help students avoid the “school-to-prison pipeline” by providing counseling and restorative-justice assistance instead of suspending or expelling those who have committed non-violent infractions.
“The PROMISE program has failed us,” parent Donald Eckler said. “Discipline hasn’t been allocated the way it should have been. I think that the program has been against what we learned after 9/11 where we have communication between the intelligence agencies. We’ve shut off communication between the school board and the police agencies that impact these students.”
Mr. Runcie and school board members defended the program and insisted that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who has reportedly confessed to the massacre, was not enrolled in PROMISE, which stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support and Education.
Reports linking Nikolas Cruz to PROMISE are “fake news,” said board member Rosalind Osgood.
“Under no terms can we sit and allow erroneous information to come forward and a program like PROMISE to be drawn into this conversation in a very evil and mean-spirited way when it has nothing to do with this program, nothing to do with what happened, and when it saved the lives of so many children,” said Ms. Osgood.
The district released a statement Tuesday in response to Mr. Preston’s report about the failure to spend bond funding earmarked for safety and security, saying that the bulk of the revenue would be spent in year five.
As of March, all projects, “including safety and security projects have been initiated and are in various stages of implementation.”
“The $104 million referenced by Kenneth Preston only accounts for the safety & security budget through December 31, 2017 (program years 1-4),” said the statement. “It does not include the funding allocated for year 5 safety and security projects.”
Mr. Preston called for an investigation into safety-funding “mismanagement and to overhaul the PROMISE program, and other discipline measures in order to “exclude violent offenders from eligibility.”
Critics have accused Broward County of allowing Mr. Cruz to fly under the radar despite years of disruptive behavior, including threats, fighting and bringing bullets to school, allowing him to avoid the criminal record that would have prevented him from buying the AR-15 rifle used in the attack.
Mr. Runcie said he expelled 300 students last year — the district has about 70,000 high schoolers — while school officials argued that programs like PROMISE have helped numerous disruptive and at-risk students stay in school.
“We believe in this program,” said Ms. Osgood. “The board has constantly supported this program. It’s so unfair to constantly have to defend something that you really support. It just makes no sense.”
The board said it wanted to see state funds earmarked for arming teachers used to hire more school resource officers.
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