Before massacre, Florida schools skimped on security tests
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Few Florida schools conducted security assessments before February’s campus massacre and most grossly underreported student crimes, the state panel investigating the shooting learned Thursday.
Of the state’s approximately 3,900 public schools, only 116 completed an optional security assessment in 2016 and 16 were filed in 2017, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The state had been recommending schools do assessments since 2001, shortly after the Columbine High attack in Colorado. During that 17-year period, Stoneman Douglas never did one, Gualtieri said. Schools that didn’t were not penalized.
“I don’t think they were being taken as seriously as they should have been,” Gualtieri said. After 14 students and three staff members were fatally shot at Stoneman Douglas on Feb. 14, the Legislature passed a law requiring all schools do a security assessment. The deadline was Aug. 1 and almost all schools complied. The assessments will be considered when the state distributes $99 million for security improvements next year — about $25,000 per campus. To bring Florida’s schools up to modern security standards would cost $2.2 billion, the panel has been told.
Separately, the commission heard Thursday there has been massive underreporting by Florida schools in their required crime reports. Stoneman Douglas reported zero incidents of bullying among its 3,200 students between 2014 and 2017 and three incidents of vandalism. The school reported 43 fights during that period, two batteries and 12 incidents of smoking or other tobacco use. The commission heard that such underreporting has been common and isn’t penalized. The commission was told many schools statewide don’t accurately report their crimes because they didn’t want to scare away students as funding is based on enrollment.
“There needs to be sanctions for underreporting or misreporting of data,” said Commissioner Ryan Petty, whose daughter died in the massacre. He said the Broward County school district’s security report filed with the state before the shooting was so incomplete, it probably took less than 30 minutes to prepare.
“The more I read, the angrier I get,” said Petty, who lost a bid for a school board seat last week. “That they would treat (the report) with such a lack of respect is beyond words.”
Broward schools spokeswoman Tracy Clark said Superintendent Robert Runcie reminded administrators they must accurately report all student discipline and make sure victims and offenders receive appropriate support, if required. She also said that discipline records are now subject to auditing.
The Stoneman Douglas commission, which has been holding regular multi-day hearings since April, is composed of law enforcement, school and mental health officials, a legislator, Petty and another victim’s father. It is charged with investigating the shooting while also making recommendations in a report due Jan. 1 to the Legislature and next governor on what can be done to prevent another school shooting.
Former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.