The Connection Between the Parkland Shooting and Obama Administration Policies

Broward Sheriff’s officer crouches behind vehicle door.

There’s been suspicion for some time now that the Parkland, Fla. shooter who ended the lives of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month may have been free to carry out the killings because the Broward County Sheriff’s Office was interested in artificially keeping student arrests low, but no one was really sure if it was a conspiracy theory or if the idea had merit.


RedState’s Sarah Rumpf looked at the data in the district after a Twitter thread appeared alleging a program existed to stop the “school-to-prison” pipeline, and that it had been implemented in Parkland. Sarah’s analysis revealed declining arrests rates despite relatively stable crime rates. In other words, crime was still being reported, but fewer people were being arrested for it.

Well now, according to a Real Clear Investigations report, there seems to be incontrovertible truth to the speculation that Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Parkland School District had been involved in a program to do exactly what the Twitter user suggested — and it all goes back to an Obama-era program that incentivized lower arrest rates to, at least originally, keep young black men from being suspended and/or arrested at a rate higher than the general school population.

Disclosures about the [program’s] strategy add a central new element to the Parkland shooting story: It’s not just one of official failings at many levels and of America’s deep divide over guns, but also one of deliberate federal policy gone awry.


Superintendent Robert W. Runcie.

In 2013, the year before Cruz entered high school, the Broward County school system rewrote its discipline policy to make it much more difficult for administrators to suspend or expel problem students, or for campus police to arrest them for misdemeanors– including some of the crimes Cruz allegedly committed in the years and months leading up to the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at his Fort Lauderdale-area school.

The new policy resulted from an Obama administration effort begun in 2011 to keep students in school and improve racial outcomes (timeline here), and came against a backdrop of other efforts to rein in perceived excesses in “zero tolerance” discipline policies, including in Florida.

Broward school Superintendent Robert W. Runcie – a Chicagoan and Harvard graduate with close ties to President Obama and his Education Department – signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to trade cops for counseling. Students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, would now be disciplined through participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses and other “self-esteem building” exercises.


Paul Speery, the Real Clear reporter who uncovered the connection, wrote about the program as far back as December 2017 when school administrators and teachers were begging the incoming Trump administration to reverse the policy after suffering physical attacks and beatings by students (some of whom carried weapons) who knew they couldn’t be expelled and wouldn’t be arrested.

The program was originally designed with a race component in mind to keep young black men from being disproportionately targeted for crimes and to bring their suspension/arrest rates in line with the rest of the school population.

According to Speery’s Real Clear piece, Sheriff Scott Israel was supportive of the program and worked with Superintendent Runcie to take it further than any of the more than 50 school districts that implemented the program around the country. The program was called PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support & Education), and substituted counseling for criminal detention.

What’s more, the PROMISE guidelines listed “assault without the use of a weapon” and “battery without serious bodily injury,” as well as “disorderly conduct,” as misdemeanors that “should not be reported to Law Enforcement Agencies or Broward District Schools Police.”

Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, would have benefited from these new guidelines.

Although he was disciplined for a string of offenses — including assault, threatening teachers and carrying bullets in his backpack — he was never taken into custody or even expelled. Instead, school authorities referred him to mandatory counseling or transferred him to alternative schools.

By avoiding a criminal record, Cruz passed a federal background check in February 2017 before purchasing the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle investigators say was used in the mass shooting. Just one month earlier, he was disciplined with a one-day internal suspension for an “assault” at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and evaluated as a potential “threat.” It was his second offense for fighting in less than four months, but campus police did not make an arrest in either case — as they typically did for repeat offenders under the district’s prior zero-tolerance policies, a review of the official “discipline matrix” used last decade reveals.


Speery’s December piece in the New York Post mentioned incentives to the tune of $2,500 in bonuses paid to principals that kept suspension rates low.

The newest Real Clear piece goes even further and notes that Superintendent Runcie’s federal grants applications showed a plan that expected to receive tens of millions of dollars in federal funding from Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s department.


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