School district shuts down information after Stoneman Douglas shooting

SunSentinel by David Fleshler

May 11, 2018

The Broward school district’s repeated, emphatic — and it turns out, false — statements that Nikolas Cruz had not been in a controversial disciplinary program fit a pattern of an institution on the defensive and under siege.

Facing significant legal and political exposure over the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the district has tried to keep information from the public and put out untrue and misleading statements, frustrating parents who say this is the time for maximum transparency.

The district is fighting in court against the release of school surveillance video. It flatly refused to issue any records regarding the shooting to the news media, in a possible violation of the state’s open-records law. Superintendent Robert Runcie has blocked critics, including parents, from his Twitter account. More than two months after the shooting, a Broward Sheriff’s detective told a state commission on school safety that he was still waiting for the district to provide all of Cruz’s disciplinary records.

The worst came last week, when Runcie acknowledged that his forceful denials that Cruz had been involved in the Promise program, which is intended to provide an alternative to the arrest of students for minor offenses, were wrong. The district had repeatedly dismissed as “fake news” suggestions that Cruz was in the program.

“It would appear that the district is more interested in protecting their programs than they are the students and teachers in our schools,” said Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was killed by Cruz during his rampage through the school. “As a father, I would ask the district to please be completely transparent so we can make sure this doesn’t happen to any other children in any other schools in Florida.”

In an interview, Runcie said the district has held nothing back from authorities, providing records as soon as they could be gathered. Any delays reflect the state of the district’s record-keeping systems, he said, not a reluctance to cooperate. He said he would look into the issue of the blanket refusals to provide documents to the news media.

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