A ‘Culture of Leniency’ in Broward Schools that Tolerates Misbehavior

May 14, 2018 Last Updated: May 14, 2018

Parkland school massacre suspect Nikolas Cruz, had slipped through the cracks of the controversial “promise program,” due to a “culture of leniency,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Under the “promise program,” which has been implemented in Broward Schools, a student who commits a non-violent misdemeanor can repeat an offense as long as it’s not the exact same violation in the exact same year; a clean slate is started the following year.

Conduct that could be criminal could, therefore, slide by for years without strict punishment under the program.

“It’s extremely problematic,” said Tim Sternberg, a former assistant principal at Pine Ridge Educational Center who administered the promise program, FoxNews reported.

“You can develop a psyche that it is OK to commit crime because you can refresh the clock every year.”

Hunter Pollack, whose sister Meadow Pollack was killed in the shooting, said in a Tweet last week: “the PROMISE program you implemented in our schools allowed 18-1958 stay to in the @browardschools. It cost 17 lives. Our school board is filled with compulsive liars. This must stop.

 

Repealing Obama’s policy

Mourners pray during a prayer vigil for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting at Parkridge Church in Coral Springs, Florida on Feb. 15, 2018. (Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration is looking to repeal Obama’s “Rethink School Discipline” policy and implement a range of measures to prevent another tragedy.

Florida’s Broward Country was one of more than 50 major school districts nationwide that adopted the policy, which allowed thousands of violent students to commit crimes without legal repercussions, according to documents and interviews cited by Real Clear Investigations.

“He had a clean record, so alarm bells didn’t go off when they looked him up in the system,” veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told RCI. “He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement.”

Cruz’s history

Nikolas Cruz in court, charged with murder for the Valentine’s Day shooting. (Tronc/Sun Sentinel)

Cruz was suspended at least 67 days over less than a year and a half at Westglades Middle School; his infractions continued at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School until he finally was forced to leave.

During middle school in 2013, Cruz was referred to a mentoring program for vandalizing a bathroom. The program was aimed at steering children away from the criminal justice system, however, Cruz did not fully participate. He again did not participate in the program while at Stoneman Douglas; administrators did not explain why.

Cruz, 19, was subsequently charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the Valentine’s Day shooting.

Concerns from teachers

More than five years ago, according to the Sun-Sentinel, a high school student who used profanity toward a staff member received a 3 to 10-day suspension. That was later reduced to one or two days.

The first violation for disruptive classroom behavior previously called for an in-school suspension of one to five days. In recent years, it was reduced to a suspension of under one day.

Mary Fitzgerald taught for 37 years in the district before retiring from Sunrise Middle in Fort Lauderdale in 2016 because of her concerns about student discipline. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the school system’s lenient discipline program is a public-relations stunt used to showcase lower suspensions, expulsions, and arrests along with rising graduation rates.

“It was so many things. I had three students bring knives to my classroom. One was out of the classroom for one day. Another had so many things on his record, he was gone for five days. None were expelled,” she told the Sun-Sentinel. “My principal basically would tell me it was his job to market the school. He was adamant about not looking bad.”

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.

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