Parkland's County School Board Votes Against Arming Employees
By Scott Travis
Broward School Board members took a stand against arming school employees Tuesday, while facing harsh public criticism about how well the district protects and cares for its students.
In a meeting dominated by issues related to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, the School Board declined to participate in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. Named after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High football coach who died in the Feb. 14 school shooting, the program provides $67 million statewide for training and stipends for certain school employees to be armed.
The School Board also was blasted by some parents and a student attending the meeting regarding what they saw as failures by the district.
Lisa Olsen, whose son William was struck by gunfire during the shooting, received an apology from two School Board members after saying district officials failed to reach out to either of them to see how they were doing.
She claimed district officials were too busy lobbying for gun control and other political causes to show any compassion for what her son had been through. She said her son received hugs from President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other state and national politicians who visited Parkland but they received no support from the district.
"Is a meeting with students and parents of the most affected survivors too much to ask?" she asked the School Board members. "Is some guidance on how students return to class after seeing their classmates murdered too much to ask?"
Board members Abby Freedman, who represents the Parkland area, and Rosalind Osgood apologized to Olsen. Freedman said she initially had a list only of the 17 who died, not the 17 who were injured. And when she received a list, it didn't include all the names. Freedman said federal health privacy laws made it difficult for her to find out who was injured.
Osgood said she didn't have their names either.
"I would love nothing more than to interact with you and your family and provide consolation," she said. "It was certainly not an intentional effort to miss you," she said.
The board was also criticized by Kenneth Preston, a 19-year-old student from Pembroke Pines. He blasted the district's slow progress on the $800 million bond passed in 2014. He said nearly $100 million in school safety money for purposes such as new fences and gates has yet to be spent.
A report he prepared was published Tuesday in the Hill, but Superintendent Robert Runcie and School Board members dismissed much of his research as "fake news." Two School Board members say quotes attributed to them from public meetings were taken out of context.
Preston met Monday with Runcie and some Parkland parents to explain his findings, but the student said Runcie wouldn't allow him to record the meeting or have his lawyer present. And Runcie brought about 10 administrators with him, Preston said.
"Call me a skeptic, but I have a hard time believing he had time to meet for two hours with a 19-year-old if he didn't believe I was holding something crucial," Preston said.
While Runcie acknowledged the bond program is behind schedule, he said it's still on track to have all work completed in a seven-year time-frame. He has said the district is expediting funds for fences and gates designed to limit visitor access to the school to just the front office, with plans to have all schools completed by early next year.
Runcie announced Tuesday the school district is holding a community forum on school safety and security, where the public can ask questions and voice their concerns. The meeting will be held April 18 at Plantation High School.
School Board members voiced their strong objection to one effort by the Legislature to make schools safer _ giving guns to school employees. They said they wouldn't participate in the state's guardian program.
"This would mean more guns, the purchase of more guns, the legalization of more guns and more guns brought from the community into schools," Osgood said.
The idea was originally to allow classroom teachers to be armed, but opposition stopped that plan. Instead, the law allows librarians, administrators, coaches, ROTC instructors and others to have weapons. The employees must undergo 132 hours of firearms training.
The School Board said it wants the state to allow it to use some of the money to hire more school police officers.
"To leave $67 million on the table is a travesty," School Board member Robin Bartleman said. "For those districts that don't want to arm employees, they should give us money to keep children safe in other ways."
Gov. Scott said in a letter to superintendents he plans to redirect any unused money to school resource officers.
However, hiring more officers may also prove to be a challenge. District lawyer Barbara Myrick said she's been told there already weren't enough officers graduating from academies to handle the current need. State funding could increase that demand by about 5,000 police officers statewide.
Board members discussed whether they were willing to hire armed security officers but couldn't come to an agreement.
It's the second time since the Stoneman Douglas shooting that the School Board has taken a stand against arming teachers. It was included in a motion supporting gun control that the School Board passed March 6. That resolution was geared toward proposals by the federal government.
Many other large school districts passed similar measures.
So far, none of the 10 largest school districts in Florida have indicated any interest in arming anyone on school campuses other than law enforcement.
(c)2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)