Since the fateful afternoon of February 14th the families of Parkland Florida, and the greater body of residents of the region have strained to deal with the improbable loss of seventeen lives in a school shooting. This has been made all the more difficult as those families and students turning to officials for assistance and answers have instead been frequently rebuffed, and delivered misinformation.
Just the latest involves the School Board now locked in a public relations quagmire, where those in power are straining to avoid responsibility. The desire is to protect a cherished program from being cited as the failure, leading to the loss of life. The result is school officials delivering misinformation in order to deflect and working to withhold information likely to be incriminating.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has found himself plummeting from a perch as a leader to a scurrying specter rarely seen, as mounting problems are exposed in his department. (He was quick to heap blame on the National Rifle Association at the CNN town hall held soon after the shooting.) Meanwhile, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie has also become the focus of growing critical questions. A program instituted to assist area students to avoid cyclical incarcerations has been tabbed as the possible reason the Parkland shooter elided institutional assistance.
The program intended to be helpful has become the focus of problems, and it was one that was the result of both Israel and Runcie working in tandem to elevate their individual stature. Derived from the Obama administration (with whom Runcie has personal ties) it is called Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support & Education (PROMISE). The intent is to curb inserting problem students into a rotation in the penal system and help them remain in school. Noble in intent, but it has been shown to be deeply flawed in execution.
Rather than working on rehabilitation and behavioral corrections — which would eventually lead to a drop in student arrests — Runcie and Israel focused up front on the arrest numbers. Israel himself bragged about how he lowered arrests, due to instituting a policy of issuing tickets rather than arresting students for serious crimes. He even gave deputies quotas for issuing citations.
The result was after a few years the Israel/Runcie policy led to a 50% drop in arrests. The rate of reported crimes during this same period remained static, essentially proving it was a pure numbers game and not a true policy. After years of inaction with the student who eventually shot up his school the call for answers to how could this transpire is bringing the focus upon PROMISE.
Last week I wrote at another outlet how weeks of Robert Runcie insisting the shooter had never been in PROMISE were proven untrue. That’s when the massaging of messaging began. Runcie declared Nikolas Cruz had never been in PROMISE “while in high school” — because he had been admitted for a vandalism incident in middle school. Some even tried to state the comments were not inaccurate because Cruz, while initially enrolled, had never actually attended the program.
The obvious questions this provokes would be, Why was there no follow up to ensure he attended? Or, failing that, why was no corrective action – such as arrest – enforced? Once the verbal dance was not working Runcie, and his school board, have gone into a version of radio silence.
In what the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel describes as a “pattern”, the School District appears to be on a mission of misinformation, and obfuscation regarding the shooting at MSDHS. It is fighting in court to prevent the release of surveillance video. It has blocked the release of pertinent documents to the media. Runcie has even begun blocking residents and parents on his Twitter account who had the temerity to question or challenge him about the lack of transparency from his district.
Seriously @Nora_Rupert @Robin_Bartleman @SBBCBrinkworth @AnnMurrayDist1 @smtravis @britsham What is your Superintendent afraid of? Is he nervous about the truth? He doesn’t respond to e-mails so I only have Twitter. How is it that your Superintendent blocks stakeholders? pic.twitter.com/vbSYM37Zc1
— Tim W. Sternberg, Ed.S. (@BrowardAdvocate) April 21, 2018
And, his own teachers. Sternberg is a former administrator who resigned after he ran the PROMISE program. He has been a staunch critic on how it is operated.
The information blackout doesn’t end there. They even have stonewalled other agencies from acquiring documents.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, said he was surprised to learn that the district still has not provided all of Cruz’s records to investigators. At a meeting of the state commission set up after the shooting to improve school safety, Pollack asked a Broward Sheriff’s detective whether all of the records had been provided.
“I believe that some of the items we are seeking to get from the school board, we have received some,” Detective Zachary Scott said. “But I do not believe we’ve received everything yet.”
From the school district, Pollack said, “There’s no honesty at all.”
Runcie has denied the school district is restricting media access to documents. “Look, we want to be as transparent and as clear as possible,” he has said, in response to questions about the lack of shared information. A school district spokeswoman reiterated their desire to release documents, but mentioned an unimaginable number of requests has stalled the process.
One problem with these comments. The press has in fact been informed that they will not be granted access to documents.
But the school district has issued a blanket refusal to release any documents, including emails about the shooting among the district’s leadership and formal notices of intent to sue by victims and their families, despite Florida’s broad public records law. “At this time, any records pertaining to Stoneman Douglas High will not be released pursuant to 768.28(16)(b) and 119.071(2)(c),” states a letter sent repeatedly to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, emphasizing the word “any.”
As has been the case with county leadership, for the three months now since the shooting, they have exhibited repeated reasons to be viewed as untrustworthy. Between the Sheriff’s office and the School District, it has become an active case of no longer judging them on their words but studying their increasingly problematic actions.
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