Confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz was a disciplinary nightmare for schools before he opened fire in Parkland, Florida — yet there was nothing on his record to stop him from buying a firearm or alarm the FBI after the agency received a tip.
The demand for an answer to that question has focused attention on Broward County Public Schools policies embraced by the Obama administration that were designed to help rule-breaking students avoid permanent blots on their records by reducing referrals to law enforcement.
Under Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, who worked for Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan in the Chicago Public Schools, school-based arrests dropped by 63 percent from 2012 to 2016 after he implemented policies designed to derail the “schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline.”
But the approach also helped keep Cruz off the law-enforcement radar, despite school-based offenses that reportedly included assault, threats and bringing bullets to school in his backpack.
“Mr. Cruz is a perfect example of someone just falling through the cracks that we create through bad policy,” Jeff Bell, a deputy sheriff and president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Association, told The Washington Times.
The 19-year-old Cruz was transferred six times in three years, the Miami Herald reported, but never expelled, taken into custody or arrested. He opened fire Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing 14 students and three teachers.
“If I have a weapon or even ammunition on school grounds, and I have certain things in my past, I could be arrested for that, but Mr. Cruz just gets off scot-free,” said Officer Bell. “And that’s the thing. If he had gotten arrested just once for disorderly conduct or trespassing or something like that, that would have shown up on his criminal record, and could have sent up some red flags before he was ever allowed to buy a firearm.”
He said deputies working as school resource officers in Broward County had their hands tied after the school district overhauled its student conduct code in 2013 with its Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline.
The agreement, developed with partners including the NAACP, the Broward County sheriff and Broward state attorney, included a diversionary program for repeat offenders called PROMISE and listed 14 misdemeanors no longer subject to school-based arrest.
“They were basically paying us not to make arrests,” said Officer Bell.
Broward County Schools spokeswoman Tracy Clark denied that the policy overhaul stopped officers from doing their jobs.
“The District’s position with the PROMISE program and school discipline reform efforts, in partnership with local law enforcement, has always been explicitly clear — that there is no intent to limit or tie the hands of law enforcement in doing their jobs in addressing school safety,” she said in a statement.
She said the program provides counseling and help with the “restorative justice process,” as well as “referrals to the juvenile justice system for students and families who do not comply with and complete the PROMISE program.”
The ambitious disciplinary reforms placed the Broward County district on the cutting edge of the nationwide push to decriminalize school discipline championed by the Obama administration.
“Some of my staff joke that the Obama administration might have taken our policies and framework and developed them into national guidelines,” Mr. Runcie told Scholastic Administrator in a 2014 interview. “What we’ve got is very aligned with that. We went out early on.”
In 2011, Mr. Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder launched the… Continue reading here.
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