Education

Stoneman Douglas commission pressures Runcie to close charter schools without armed guards

Fed up with a lack of a sense of urgency, the commission created to investigate the events surrounding last year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pressured Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie to close charter schools that still do not have an armed guard on campus.

Runcie said Thursday morning that the School Board was moving to close one non-compliant charter school next week. For 17 months, all public schools, including charter schools, have been required to have a trained armed guard or a sworn law enforcement officer on campus. Classes started in Broward on Wednesday.

“There’s actually very little a school board can do to impact the compliance of charter schools with statutes and best practices,” Runcie said. “The only lever we have to pull is shut them down.” He would not identify the school, citing safety concerns.

Commission member Grady Judd announced later Thursday that that uncovered school, Championship Academy Elementary & Middle School in Davie, now had police protection. Judd said a state official visited the school of 580 students and made arrangements.

“All it took was leadership,” said Judd, blaming Runcie. “All it took was someone going there and saying hey, you got to do this.”

The commissioners remained frustrated after they learned Wednesday that 29 charter schools, a third of the charter schools in the district, were reported to not have long-term accommodations. Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony reached out to charter schools without accommodations and staffed them with short-term deputies. There was also confusion as a state official testified that he had information to the contrary.

On Friday, the Broward County school district said in a press release that staff on Wednesday visited schools with either a lack of documentation of a sustainable security plan or new school administrative personnel. Staff found only one charter school without an armed guard on campus.

It’s still not clear how the confusion was caused. The press release did not explain the discrepancy between the figures of 29 charter schools and just one being out of compliance. Broward school district staff did not respond to requests for comment.

Lynn Norman-Teck, the executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance, isn’t sure what happened either. She said she called each of the 28 charter schools (she said one was duplicated) to verify that they had a contract with a law enforcement agency for coverage and double-checked that information with the state’s charter school director, Adam Emerson.

Norman-Teck said she too found one charter school out of compliance with an unsigned contract. Others had “short-term” plans for coverage which were considered to be insufficient. She asked each of those charter schools to resubmit their documentation to the school district.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” she said. “I don’t know if the charter schools did not get the right information to the district or if the district didn’t get a list.”

Charter schools, which have their own sovereign school boards, bear the responsibility of being in compliance with the law. If a charter school chooses not to pay for a law enforcement officer out of pocket, its only other option is to hire a guardian and enroll them in a guardian training program with a sheriff’s office.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he received emails late Wednesday night from charter schools with contracts for police protection that were signed in the past two or three days. One charter school attached a 13-day contract with Hallandale Beach police that was not signed by the city.

“Can’t do business that way,” Gualtieri said. “This is not right. This should’ve been done a long time ago.”

The superintendent gave a timeline of the district’s efforts to warn charter schools that they were out of compliance with the law. He said no charter school has reached out to the school district for guardian training.

“I do not have the authority to revoke a charter because a school does not have a long-term sustainable plan,” he said.

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