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The Broward County school district’s adoption of a school discipline policy that was praised by the Obama administration for seeking to reduce the reported number of school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests may have played a role in the fact that Nikolas Cruz remained under the radar until his shooting rampage in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.
“The facts pattern that has emerged strongly suggests it played a role,” Manhattan Institute senior fellow Max Eden tells Breitbart News. “It’s not actually accurate to say that what Broward County did was the result of the Obama policy. It might be more accurate to say that what Broward County did was in some way the inspiration for Obama’s policy.”
The Obama-era Departments of Education and Justice – under education secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder –issued school guidelines in 2014 that claimed students of color are “disproportionately impacted” by suspensions and expulsions, a situation they said leads to a “school-to-prison pipeline” that discriminates against minority and low-income students.
“Broward County was the first to have the goal of lowering suspensions, lowering expulsions, lowering arrests,” explains Eden. “And, so, they decided to reduce police involvement by not bringing in cops to arrest kids for a whole range of serious offenses, and then, as you would expect, the arrests go down when you stop arresting. That was taken to be a sign of success, based on that metric alone.”
According to the Obama administration’s 2014 “Dear Colleague” guidance, any school district whose disciplinary measures showed “disparate impact” – meaning a disproportionately greater number of minority students are affected – is open to investigation by the Departments of Justice and Education, regardless of whether the behavior leading to the discipline is unacceptable.
Eden explained at National Review in November how the Obama-era school discipline policy “extended Black Lives Matter’s ideology down into America’s classrooms”:
Social-justice activists assumed that just as racial disparities in the criminal-justice system must be evidence that cops are (at least implicitly) racist, so too racial disparities in school suspensions must be evidence that teachers are (at least implicitly) racist. Therefore, teachers — like cops — have to be restrained.
Several years before the Obama school discipline policy appeared, however, the Broward County school board hired as superintendent Robert Runcie – who had worked for Duncan in Chicago – and also joined with the NAACP, law enforcement, and government agencies to adopt the district’s Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline, dubbed PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support, and Education).
As M. Catharine Evans reports at American Thinker, in academic year 2011-2012, just prior to the school board’s decision to hire Runcie, the Broward County public school district had 1,062 school-related arrests – the highest number in Florida.
The Obama administration’s Department of Education was also involved in implementing PROMISE. Obama, who routinely dangled carrots in the form of matching federal grants to local districts for their participation in Common Core and Race to the Top, doled out millions to Broward.
With the promise of federal monies, it’s no surprise that Superintendent Runcie (annual salary: $335,000) was happy to oblige his friends in D.C. Within a year of Runcie’s arrival, student arrest rates were down 66 percent, and Broward County Schools were about to hit the federal jackpot.
One of the premises of the PROMISE program cited in the agreement and supported by data from the Obama Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reads:
WHEREAS, across the country, students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are disproportionately impacted by school-based arrests for the same behavior as their peers.
“In 2015, the Obama administration brought them to a White House Summit on rethinking school discipline and to highlight their success and tell school districts throughout the country, ‘Look at what Broward is doing as an example,’” Eden says.
Broward County Sheriff Union president Jeff Bell told Laura Ingraham on Fox News that he places some blame for the horrific shooting on the school board and the adoption of its PROMISE program:
For years they know that the schools have been soft targets, and they claim that they want to have better police presence inside the schools, and they want tougher security, but, yet, they do not want to cough up the money to pay for that better security and fortify their schools and have better designs. They don’t want that. And, then when they are fortunate to have a school resource officer deputy on scene, and armed police presence, a lot of the liberal-thinking principals on campus there, they don’t want the police officers making arrests on campus, and they don’t want the drugs to be found on campus, and they don’t want the warrants to be served on campus because it looks like there’s bad stats at the school.
So, I place a lot of blame on the school board with that and some of the programs that they’ve initiated with the state attorney and the sheriff’s office in years past. For example, the PROMISE program … the problem is when that program started, we took all discretion away from the law enforcement officers to effect an arrest if we choose to.
During an interview Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel first defended the PROMISE program as one that is “helping many, many people,” but then later admitted that if a report is not made about an aggressive student’s behavior to law enforcement, “there’s no malfeasance or misfeasance if you don’t know about something”:
TAPPER: I think there are a lot of people, sir, who think that there are a lot of mistakes, other than that one deputy.
But let me ask you something else. A lot of people in the community have noted that the Broward County School Board entered into an agreement when you were sheriff in 2013 to pursue the — quote — “least punitive means of discipline” against students.
This new policy encouraged warnings, consultations with parents and programs on conflict resolution, instead of arresting students for crimes.
Were there not incidents committed by the shooter as a student had this new policy not been in place that otherwise he would have been arrested for and not able to legally buy a gun?
ISRAEL: What you’re referring to is the PROMISE Program.
And it’s giving the school — the school has the ability under certain circumstances not to call the police, not to get the police involved on misdemeanor offenses and take care of it within the school. It’s an excellent program.
It’s helping many, many people. What this program does is not put a person at 14, 15, 16 years old into the criminal justice system.
TAPPER: What if he should be in the criminal justice system? What if he does something violent to a student? What if he takes bullets to school? What if he takes knives to schools? What if he threatens the lives of fellow students?
ISRAEL: Then he goes to jail. That’s not applicable in the PROMISE Program.
TAPPER: That’s not what happened. But that’s not what happened with the shooter.
ISRAEL: If – Jake, you’re telling me that the shooter took knives to school or bullets to school, and police knew about it?
TAPPER: I don’t know if police knew about it.
ISRAEL: No. Well, police …
TAPPER: I know that the agreement that you entered into with the school allowed the school to give this kid excuse after excuse after excuse, while, obviously …
ISRAEL: Not for bullets, not for bullets, not for guns, not for knives, not for felonies, not for anything like that. These are infractions within the school, small amounts of marijuana, some misdemeanors.
You’re absolutely exacerbating it. That’s not …
TAPPER: There are at teachers at the school had been told, if you see Cruz come on campus with a backpack, let me know.
Does that not indicate that there is something seriously awry with the PROMISE Program if these teachers are being told, watch out for this kid, and you don’t know about it?
ISRAEL: We don’t know that that has anything to do with the PROMISE Program. I didn’t hear about this until after the fact. I have heard about this information about a week ago. I do know about it. I don’t know who the teacher was. It hasn’t been corroborated, but that has nothing to do with the PROMISE Program.
I can’t, nor can any other Broward sheriff’s deputy, handle anything or act upon something you don’t know about it. There’s no malfeasance or misfeasance if you don’t know about something.
“So much of the question that we should be asking is how did Cruz go under the radar and what role these policies played in that, because we have evidence that, at a lower level, these dynamics are playing out in school districts across the country,” Eden asserts.
He observes that in Washington, DC, principals of nearly every high school “systematically took suspensions off the books.”
“They told teachers not to let those students back into school, but they never told Central Office about it,” he explains. “So how much troubling student behavior was never able to be processed because of the way administrators reacted to a shift that says we expect you to post lower numbers on disciplinary problems?”
Evans notes that in October 2016, Broward County’s school board and its partners renewed the PROMISE agreement:
After the 2016 signing, it was announced a couple of weeks later on October 18, BCPS was the only large urban district in the country to receive a Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education totaling $53,808, 909. One of the TIF’s grant priorities is listed as “improved life for students in poverty/students of color.”
Nevertheless, as the Washington Post reported, the Florida Department of Children and Families report regarding the investigation into Cruz states that, in 2016, school resource officer Scot Peterson had been approached by investigators, but “refused to share any information … regarding [an] incident that took place with” Cruz.
The Post continues:
That same year, the sheriff’s office revealed Thursday, it was told about “third hand information” from a “neighbor’s son” suggesting that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school,” although the specific school was not listed. The sheriff’s office said a deputy contacted the caller, determined that Cruz had knives and a BB gun and sent the information to the school resource officer — presumably Peterson. It is unclear whether he investigated.
“If we’re trying to answer the question, ‘How did Nikolas Cruz remain under the radar?’ it certainly seems as though part of that answer is the fact that the radar was shifted and that students like him were supposed to be put under the radar in the first place,” Eden suggests. “The point of the PROMISE program was to not let them know about it.”