Education

‘Do things differently,’ sheriff leading Stoneman Douglas panel tells Broward district

Commission chair and Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri

In a June 2018 meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission, a state-created group charged with making Florida schools safer in light of the Parkland shooting, members grilled Broward County on its controversial PROMISE program.
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In a June 2018 meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission, a state-created group charged with making Florida schools safer in light of the Parkland shooting, members grilled Broward County on its controversial PROMISE program.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has spent the better part of the last year dissecting every policy, practice and procedure leading up to and following the Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Gualtieri, the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, paid a visit Tuesday to “ground zero,” the Broward County School Board, to go over the commission’s findings and what could be immediately done to stop the next school shooting.

“We have to change. We have to do things differently,” he told Broward school officials. “If we continue to have discussions about a different outcome without immediately effecting change, we’re kidding ourselves.”

Gualtieri said school boards beyond Broward can get wrapped up in pricey safety contracts and implementing laws, instead of outlining in policies and procedures how to identify, communicate and react to threats. The Broward County School Board passed a policy codifying emergency protocols just last week.

“There’s not enough basic things being done,” Gualtieri said. He advocated expediting the marking of “hard corners” in classrooms and buying items like walkie-talkies at the local Walmart.

The Miami Herald, McClatchy and The Trace, an online nonprofit news organization that covers firearms issues, tracked gun deaths among youths 18 and under in the year since the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Gualtieri began his presentation by touching on the Promise program, the Broward school district’s discipline diversion program. The African-American community, many of whom are supporters of Superintendent Robert Runcie, advocated for the program at a town hall Monday night.

Gualtieri urged for school districts including Broward to participate in the statewide juvenile prevention web, which he described as a non-punitive database for tracking minors’ offenses.

“I think where you’re getting the criticisms ... is you’re giving them [students] too many bites of the apple,” he said.

After Gualtieri’s testimony, Runcie’s staff said 1,800 to 2,000 students go through the Promise program in a school year, and on average about 30 students re-offend more than three times.

On Tuesday, the school board discussed changes to the Promise program that aligned with recommendations from the Stoneman Douglas public safety commission. They include reporting students who commit more than one misdemeanor to a threat assessment team to determine if it should be reported to law enforcement and maxing out three Promise-eligible incidents accrued by 12th grade.

Gualtieri also gave a synopsis of what the commission found. He highlighted how neither Stoneman Douglas Principal Ty Thompson nor Assistant Principal Jeff Morford knew how to conduct threat assessments and emphasized the importance of having more armed staff on campus.

He also played censored cellphone videos that captured the moments during the Valentine’s Day shooting. Gunshots could be heard in one video. In another, students wept as injured classmates were carried out of the classroom, past bodies on the floor.

“Hearing the specifics, it was very traumatizing, it was very difficult,” said School Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the shooting. “Just trying to keep pushing forward to make the necessary changes and recommendations the commission is asking from us as a district.”

Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida.
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