On February 14, 2018, 17 people were killed and 17 more were injured when Marjory Stoneman Douglas became the scene of Florida’s deadliest school shooting on record. In the months since, the public has discovered the extent of the Broward County School District’s failures to protect its students and provide adequate responses to issues. Furthermore, the superintendent has continuously misled the public about the events prior to the shooting. Here’s what went wrong:
Prior to the shooting, a bond referendum was passed in which over $800 million was budgeted for Broward County schools, with over $100 million designated specifically for school safety. As of now, Year 4 of the program, roughly 5% of the this year’s total safety budget has been spent, largely due to safety projects plagued with major delays. In the meantime, music, art, and technology programs continue to be implemented on time and on budget.
At school board meetings, Superintendent Robert W. Runcie has defended the bond programs by touting the accolades the district has received as a result of new instruments and athletic programs. On safety, though, the superintendent and district have fallen short. One of the over $100 million in delayed safety projects was a new fire alarm for Stoneman Douglas High School. Broward’s former Director of School Safety suggested years ago that the district install new alarms with a delay. The delay works to detect whether a fire actually exists before triggering a full-scale fire alarm. If there’s no fire, administratorscan prevent the alarm from sounding. On the day of the shooting, six students died and three were injured fleeing from their classrooms as a result of the fire alarm sounding. Had it been installed on time with the recommended upgrades, those students might not have been in the line of fire.
This isn’t the only failure of the school district. The response to this tragedy has been abysmal. Rather than approaching the families of victims with consolation and care, the district neglected to send a single condolence letter.
Throwing salt in the wounds of the community, Superintendent Runcie erroneously told the parents that the school and school district had done everything correctly. Parents of victims such as Philip Schentrup called the response an “outrage” … “given that [he] was burying [his] sixteen-year-old daughter.” To make matters worse, Principal April Schentrup had her pay docked as she took time to grieve her daughter’s death. When she asked the superintendent for a temporary replacement to fill in for her while she mourned, the superintendent told her that being a principal is “not a part time job.”
Despite promising the families a thorough and transparent investigation into the shooting, the District has under-delivered. All concerns regarding school safety spending and controversial school discipline programs proffered by students, community members, and families of victims, were labeled “fake news” by Runcie. Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood labeled them “appalling.”
One by one, the truth came to light revealing that concerns were both justified and accurate. The superintendent was forced to walk back previous categorical denials that the Parkland mass shooter was involved in discipline programs, when in fact the opposite was true. Later, when confronted with claims of over $100 million in unspent safety funds, the board begrudgingly admitted that only $5 million had been spent. Facing intense scrutiny, Runcie has resorted to blocking constituents on Twitter, refusing public records requests for information on the shooting, and failing to provide discipline records to the Florida governor’s statewide commission on school safety.
Broward County has seen 14 students and 3 teachers killed, left $100 million in safety money unspent, and failed to enforce a discipline policy that kept the Parkland shooter out of the hands of law enforcement. Despite these massive systematic failures, the leadership and security staff under which the shooting occurred are still deciding policy for Broward County. While the superintendent and district staff couldn’t have envisioned the tragedy that occurred, they are responsible for their failure to better secure schools prior to the shooting and for the shameful response that followed it. Our county deserves new leadership, and recent failures demand it.