Broward School Board lashes out at media, fights among itself over metal detectors

Tuesday marks six months since a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, killing 17 and wounding 17 more. Broward County students return to school Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Tuesday marks six months since a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, killing 17 and wounding 17 more. Broward County students return to school Wednesday, Aug. 15. AP

A Broward County School Board meeting was abruptly recessed Tuesday when discussion turned to taking legal action against a media outlet and a change of course on installing metal detectors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Board member Robin Bartleman said she was not consulted when the school district on Monday asked a judge to hold the South Florida Sun Sentinel and two reporters in contempt of court for publishing redacted information about Nikolas Cruz’s educational career that was protected under federal privacy laws. The redactions in the 70-page report commissioned by the district and released Friday were discovered by the Sun Sentinel to be not properly done and therefore readable.

Board attorney Barbara Myrick told the board that the decision was made among the district’s legal team on “somewhat of an emergency basis” and neither Superintendent Robert Runcie nor board members were part of the decision. Although other media outlets reported the information, the Sun Sentinel was singled out because it was a party in an ongoing lawsuit for public agencies to release information surrounding Cruz’s actions that led to 17 dead and another 17 hurt in the deadliest school shooting in Florida. The Miami Herald is also involved in that legal action seeking public documents.

Myrick compared the publishing of protected information to “leaving your car unlocked” and a thief stealing your purse. She said she wrote an email to the Sentinel’s publisher, editor and two reporters to remove the unredacted report from its website on Monday but had not heard back.

Board members expressed concern over how the prosecution of Cruz’s case might be impacted by redacted information coming to light and how the report was poorly redacted. Board member Abby Freedman said publishing Cruz’s redacted educational information was comparable to “identity theft.” Many agreed that they found out about the report and legal action through media and not through the district.

“Communication to the board must improve,” said chairwoman Nora Rupert. “The aspect that we’re getting our information from the news is ridiculous.”

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Runcie changed the subject to discuss the district’s decision to walk back the implementation of metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas and how the board would further discuss the issue at a workshop next week. He compared the decision to the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster that could have been avoided if new information had been considered.

Bartleman balked at his analogy, saying that Stoneman Douglas Principal Ty Thompson entered a purchase order for 10 metal detectors months ago.

“I’m not arguing for or against metal detectors, I’m arguing how this board looks to the public,” she said. “We are actually having this metal detector discussion the day before school starts. You’re telling me there’s an epiphany? People knew about this before.”

Chief of Staff Jeff Moquin corrected Bartleman. “At no time did Ty Thompson issue a purchase order to order any metal detectors. There had been a previous proposal sent to us in the form of an invoice but that was not acted upon at any point in time.”

Broward teachers and staff are scheduled to report to work on Wednesday. The first day of class is a week later on Wednesday, Aug. 15.

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The board erupted at her comments.

“That’s where you go too far,” said board member Rosalind Osgood. “We’re not reversing any decisions. Now we have a company that we’ve hired that’s advising us different.”

She added, “It is unfair for you to sit there and take that position with the board when we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Rupert abruptly called for a recess, but board members continued conversations with the microphones off. She came back online to say the board would begin a closed-door meeting to discuss safety measures through a working lunch.

Earlier in the meeting, the board unanimously passed the final reading of a policy that would allow students who are registered patients to receive medical marijuana treatment in school. District policy now allows for the principal to designate a space for the student to receive treatment, with help from a parent or registered caregiver and not a school employee, in the form of an edible, oil or lotion. Smokeable or inhalable marijuana is not permitted.

Broward school district spokeswoman Nadine Drew wrote in an email that the district does not have an estimate of how many students are registered medical marijuana patients. Bartleman said many parents of children with severe seizures have asked for a policy.

State statute allows school boards to create policy for medical marijuana treatment at schools. The school board of Suwannee County, north of Gainesville, passed a similar policy in June.

The Miami-Dade County school district has declined to create a similar policy because it remains illegal under federal law.

“Until we receive further guidance from the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health, the district will treat each request on a case-by-case basis,” said spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego in an email. She added that the district has not received any requests for accommodation.

Armed guardians are training to protect Broward elementary schools when classes resume on Aug. 15, 2018. Armed guardians are former law enforcement, military or corrections officers undergoing training to work in schools.