It’s a slap in the face to the families of all of those killed in the Parkland shooting.
The Broward school district has changed its description of the controversial “Promise” program that lead to the shooting.
Why? So they can sidestep a new state law requiring schools to share more information with law enforcement.
Florida passed a law last year after the mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It requires that students who go through pre-arrest diversion programs must be entered into a state database. That database is run by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The Broward school district doesn’t want to share that information.
So they’re now saying that Promise isn’t really a diversion program.
They’re now calling it an “alternative to external suspension” program, and say that means it doesn’t fall under the new law.
On February 6, the district initially decided its data must be shared and started doing so. They backtracked when they started worrying that doing so made some kids more prone to arrest, and they stopped doing it on March 4.
“I’m not in favor of giving data that’s going to accumulate and be used in a punitive way to levy points that could hurt students,’ said Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood.
The entire point of the law was to identify dangerous students like the Parkland killer before something like that shooting can happen.
The idea behind it is to give law enforcement access to a child’s full criminal history, including diversions, so police could decide if an arrest was necessary.
The school doesn’t want that. The district’s general counsel, Barbara Myrick, issued a memo on March to Superintendent Robert Runcie and Mickey Pope, an administrator who oversees the program.
That memo says that a diversion program has a specific definition under state law.
According to her, a police-issued civil citation is a type of state-defined diversion, as are programs requiring a student to surrender a driver’s license and “neighborhood restorative justice programs.”
“It is clear that the Promise Program does not meet the statutory definition of a diversion program and therefore, a student’s information/data regarding participation in the Promise Program should not be entered into the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Information System database,” she wrote.
But State Attorney Mike Satz couldn’t disagree more.
“We have always felt and we still feel that Promise is a diversion program,” Satz said in a statement. “We believe there is a requirement under the law to enter the information into the Department of Juvenile Justice database.”
The way the district is now describing the Promise program is a clear change from what it’s said in the past.
Pope, who has since retired, spoke about it to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission in June.
“It was modeled after Clayton County, Georgia’s diversion, pre-diversion program,” he said.
That commission has been investigating what lead to the massacre.
On January 17, the district again referred to Promise as a “pre-diversion” program. It came in a report that very specifically outlined how the district was responding to the recommendations of the commission.
In particular, the commission urged that school districts run pre-arrest diversion programs consistently with criteria established by their local state attorney.
In case you weren’t aware, here are the offenses that fall under the Promise Program:
- Alcohol – Possession / Use / Under the Influence
- Alcohol Sale / Attempted Sale / Transmittal
- Assault / Threat (no harm or injury)
- Disruption on Campus (Major)
- Drug – Use / Possession / Under the Influence
- Drug Paraphernalia – Possession
- False Accusation Against School Staff
- Fighting – Mutual Combat
- Theft- Petty <$300
- Vandalism/Damage to Property <$1,000
The school district issued a response. They said that its “pre-diversion program was created in 2011 to provide an alternative to external suspensions for students charged with non-violent disciplinary infractions.”
In a parent meeting on February 5, Runcie was asked about the Promise program. He said, “These pre-diversion programs are required by state laws to provide services to kids that are involved in nonviolent, nonthreatening misdemeanor situations.”
The school district started the Promise program with the support of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office and other agencies several years ago.
The idea behind it wasn’t to reduce violence – it was to drop the large number of arrests of black teens for minor offenses.
The Obama administration considered it a model for other school districts to follow after arrests dropped dramatically. But it was clearly just a numbers game.
The program came under attack after the Stoneman Douglas tragedy.
Critics argued it allowed the killer to stay off the radar of police while he committed multiple infractions.
The commission said that the program was flawed and recommended the district share information with other law enforcement agencies.
Commission member Ryan Petty’s daughter Alaina was killed at Stoneman Douglas. He said the district’s efforts appear to be an attempt to preserve its “ability to operate the Promise program outside the confines of state law and agreements with local law enforcement agencies and the state attorney.”
Broward school officials argue they want to share information with law enforcement.
According to them, they’re fine with it being used to provide additional resources, such as counseling, to students.
But they say sharing some information, such as non-criminal disciplinary measures, violates students’ privacy rights. They make sure to not say anything about protecting the rights of the students who were killed in the Parkland massacre.
The district spokesman Cathleen Brennan shared a canned response:
The school district is “committed to ensuring full collaboration with law enforcement in sharing appropriate disciplinary actions to ensure the community has both public safety and privacy rights respected,” she said.
She the district is awaiting guidance from the state on how to accomplish this, and argued that law enforcement has always been able to request student discipline data directly through the school administration.
The Broward County Chiefs of Police Association is not happen. It’s been one of the agencies critical of the district’s Promise program. The association is also upset with the lack of shared information among the association’s concerns.
Lauderhill Police Chief Constance Stanley leads the group.
She said the chiefs are trying to resolve differences with the school district, but wouldn’t specifically address the sharing-of-information issue.
“Until we meet with the School Board to further discuss, I will refrain from commenting,” she said. “We will continue to work towards addressing all concerns and hope that we come to a happy medium.”