The Sins of a Superintendent

All of us make mistakes. The key is to acknowledge them, learn, and move on. The real sin is ignoring mistakes, or worse, seeking to hide them. Robert Zoellick

Broward Schools Town Hall February 2019Add another to the ever-growing list of sins committed by Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward County School Board, in the years leading up to and in the aftermath of the tragedy at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School February 14th, 2018. 

Sin. 

Not a word often associated with a school district, a superintendent or school board.  However, last night’s packed school safety town hall hosted by the Broward County School District at JP Taravela High School was no normal Broward County School District town hall.  But sin you say, I’ll come back to that shortly.

Community Theater

Last night’s gathering went beyond what might be euphemistically labeled as “community theater”.  Tonight’s town hall was more religious revival than the traditional agitprop we’ve come to expect from the leaders of Broward County School District.  But right on cue, like a Hollywood production, busloads of witting and unwitting “extras” appeared on set, applauding as community “leaders” heaped praise upon Superintendent Runcie–weaving religious imagery, God, Biblical exhortations, even messages of redemption into their public comments.

 

 

Marsha Ellison of the Broward Chapter of the NAACP and Brian Johnson, the vice mayor of West Park set the tone as they kicked off the festivities to cheers from many in the crowd. Johnson saying, “I pray God continues to give you strength to endure this ongoing nightmare. An entire community is watching you and admire(s) your strength.” One might mistake Mr. Johnson’s comments as directed at the families of the victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, or perhaps to the survivors of that tragic day.  Or to a still-grieving community in search of comfort.  No, Mr. Johnson’s comments were in praise of Superintendent Runcie.  There was even an Old Testament rebuke of the Superintendent’s detractors.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Psalm 137:5

But the audience at times seemed lost cheering for speakers critical of the Superintendent and the District. Voicing support for students from around the District, John Daly, a long-time critic of Superintendent Runcie and School Board, spoke powerfully about the district leaving minority students behind, commenting that the issue of school safety should not be about race or economic status.  Other parents expressed concerns over continuing safety issues that exist in schools around the District.  The latest, a gun brought onto campus at Dillard High School this past week, a stark reminder of the Superintendent’s continuing failures.

Sin of Commission

What became clear tonight was the growing divide in our community.  A divide between the Parkland/MSD community, which has endured the horrors of the MSD tragedy, and much of the rest of the Broward County community.  A divide engineered by Mr. Runcie’s sycophants and deliberately exploited by Mr. Runcie in a well-planned, well-scripted attempt to silence Parkland and sew the seeds of division in our county.

And therein lies the latest sin of this Superintendent & his willing enablers on the School Board. This is not a sin of omission, as was the failure to follow through in 2013 on promised school security measures or to effectively use taxpayer-approved bonds to enhance school safety or the lack of urgency with which this District operates.  This is a sin of commission.

Mr. Runcie and his supporters on the Broward County School Board would rather a community tear itself apart over manufactured perceptions of racial and socioeconomic divisions than admit they failed to protect the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Or Dillard High School. Or any of the over 200 schools in the District.  Over failures to effectively implement the SMART Bond program.  Over failures to demonstrate desperately-needed leadership in the wake of the MSD tragedy. This isn’t just about February 14th, 2018, or MSD or Parkland for that matter. This about every student, every teacher in every school in the district.  For the School Board to allow, and for some on the School Board to encourage the Superintendent and his supporters to use race and economic disparities should be grounds for their immediate removal.

The cause of that divide lies completely within the control of Superintendent Robert Runcie and members of the Broward County School Board and both should publicly disavow it immediately.  But don’t hold your breath.  Both hope to silence Parkland and for a change in the conversation.  They hope a change of conversation will deflect public scrutiny from their past & current inaction on school safety and the general lack of urgency with which the District addresses almost every issue. 

Revelation

While this tactic may be effective in a town hall setting, it will fall flat under the refiner’s fire of the coming Grand Jury.  And fortunately, that refiner’s fire is coming soon. 

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.  Malachi 3:2

While it is too late for Aaron, Alaina, Alex, Alyssa, Cara, Carmen, Chris, Gina, Helena, Jaime, Joaquin, Luke, Martin, Meadow, Nicholas, Peter, and Scott, it doesn’t have to be for the other students and staff of Broward County Schools, regardless of where they live or where they go to school.  We must recognize the divisive tactics of this superintendent and his enablers and we must reject them before more lives are senselessly lost.

My Statement on the 2018 Broward County School Board Election

chalkboard_voteStatement by Ryan Petty on Broward County School Board Election for District 8

September 3, 2018

Our public schools in Broward County can and must do better: from improving academic performance to making our teachers a priority, to the realization of safer schools.

Nothing put the deficiencies of our public schools in sharper detail than the tragedy of losing my daughter Alaina, the 16 other souls lost and the 17 injured–a school, a community and a nation shaken.    

We know improvements must be made in Broward schools. It should be clear that we desperately need change.

Today, I congratulate Donna Korn and ask her to faithfully represent all voters, including the nearly 50% of voters that raised their voices for change.  You have been entrusted with another term on the Broward County School Board–an opportunity to at long last complete the vital work of protecting our students and teachers and to ensure academic achievement is realized in Broward County Schools.

I fought hard for change for our students & teachers, and I will continue pushing for transparency and accountability from our Broward County School Board and district leadership.

I could not have done any of this alone.  I was surrounded by an amazing campaign team, dedicated volunteers, friends, and neighbors.  To each of you, I can only say, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Original can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/144n3au2t5U5IOLKFlbGZXz7kCOoL97zxCDNu1uKy48Y/edit?usp=sharing

If We Could Roll Back the Clock to February 14, 2017

Recently on my social media stream, a friend proposed the following thought exercise about gun control and time travel.  After the Parkland tragedy that took 17 lives, including my daughter Alaina, I took some time to reflect on this.  Here is what my friend proposed:

So 99% of the media coverage of the Parkland tragedy has focused on gun control. I’m not saying anything for or against gun control here, so please suspend for a moment your opinions on that, and answer honestly this simple hypothetical question:

If you theoretically had a child attending MSD, and could roll back the clock to a year before 2/14, in what order would you change the following options in order to keep your child safe?:

  1. Have a law written somewhere saying no-one anywhere can own a semi-automatic gun.
  2. Have the FBI actually follow up and act on reported risky, threatening behavior.
  3. Have a school policy that allows authorities to actually report and act on aggressive, violent, or psychologically imbalanced behavior.
  4. Have school security officers that will actually try to stop an active shooter vs. waiting outside during a rampage.
  5. Have hardened schools that mitigate the effect a shooter could have.

I’m not sure of the exact order, but #1 is at the bottom of my list. (I don’t think a law on the books, while doing nothing about the other areas, would meaningfully increase the safety of my child nearly as much as the other 4)

So why is this receiving 1% of the coverage? In this specific incident, these deaths did not happen for lack of a gun law on the books. They happened because multiple people in positions of power and responsibility neglected, ignored, or abdicated their responsibilities to keep these children safe. Holding them accountable should be of the utmost priority.

It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating question, perhaps better phrased, “What wouldn’t I give to rewind the clock?”  Let’s say it was possible to rewind the clock.  Of the five choices, what would I change?  What do I believe would have saved my daughter and 16 other beautiful souls?  I responded with the following, slightly edited response:

“I can find no fault with your question and wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion: a law banning any specific firearm would have been, and remains today, at the bottom of my list. If 2,3,5 had been in place, 17 lives would have been saved, 17 others uninjured, with thousands of lives unchanged by the horror of February 14, 2018. If only 4 had been different, 6 on the 3rd floor might have lived.”  (see Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders)

But here’s an honest attempt to answer your question on why gun control dominates the media.

A. Gun control is almost always positioned as a “silver bullet” solution, an easy way to fix a horrific & complex social problem. Its simplicity is deceptive and therefore alluring. No proof of efficacy is required, any demand for proof made of advocates is overshadowed by the obviously good intentions.

  • Being for it demands nothing more than to be against something.
  • There is very little effort demanded beyond advocacy.
  • It is a single-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem.

B. It’s easy to call for “common sense” gun control measures for specific types of firearms. Once you call for controls, you advocate for them by marching, protesting, harassing lawmakers & impugning the motives of anyone that disagrees with you. Marching, protesting, and harassing is passed off as indicators of authenticity.  Common sense is promoted as consensus.

C. The media generally agrees with gun control as a political & policy objective. This means you will automatically get sympathetic, earned media. The disparity in media feeds the notion of consensus and a feeling of progress.

D. Closely related to C is that controversy drives media views & clicks. Because gun control is such a divisive issue, equal parts of the country will be cheering and throwing their shoes at their TVs. Either way, they are watching and clicking and this feeds the media’s appetite.

E. Closely related to D are the gun control measures generated by advocacy groups and promulgated by the media.  These will never pass in any significant or meaningful form, so for the media, it’s an issue where they can lather rinse & repeat = $$$.

Responsible firearms ownership, on the other hand, is not only politically viable but far more effective in stopping the violence.  Responsible firearms ownership’s only fault: It is not as interesting to the media nor to advocacy groups focused on agitating and controversy.  For example, what we (as a community) did with Florida Senate Bill 7026 was an effort to keep firearms away from those that want to harm themselves or others, by creating a “red flag” law in Florida.    Improving the background check system as we did with the FixNICS Act in the US Congress and recently signed into law by the President. Two very effective tools in the fight against violence, but not headline generators.

F. And it’s not just the media that benefit but the advocacy groups on both sides of the controversy that whip up angst and use it to drive membership & donations.  Just look at what happened after Parkland.  Fear drives fundraising–on both sides of the issue.

G. Progressive advocacy groups are really good at B. There were pro-gun control “boots on the ground” in Parkland on Feb 15, agitating, fomenting, organizing. Marches and protests garner media clicks/views. Views = $.

Why School Safety Should Be Our Focus

Rather than focusing on trying to control the media narrative, I will continue to focus on improving schools safety, by fixing 2,3,4,5 and more specifically through efforts to improve early identification and intervention. These may not garner the media attention that other policy prescriptions do, but I am convinced by the research and the evidence that early identification works.   On that note:  There is a strong correlation between suicidality and mass shooters; using suicidality as an early indicator will help us intervene and prevent future attacks.

The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas should show us that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss disturbing behavior, criminal activity, or threats against our schools. The lives of our children & teachers depend on it.  We can’t rewind the clock, but we can learn the lessons of the past.

Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with supporters and critics of an Obama-era directive on school discipline on Wednesday.  Secretary DeVos is considering changes to the directive and possibly repealing the guidelines outlined therein.

That 2014 directive, issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, put school districts on notice that they could be found in violation of federal civil rights law if they create and enforce intentionally discriminatory rules.  However, and perhaps more importantly, school districts could also be at risk of violating federal civil rights laws if their discipline policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students of different racial groups.  This risk was present, even if their discipline policies were written without discriminatory intent.

There is an excellent article titled, DeVos Meets With Supporters, Critics of Discipline Rules as GAO Says Racial Disparities Persist written by Evie Blad (@evieblad) covering the meeting and the testimony shared by both proponents and opponents of the directive, over at the Rules for Engagement Blog at Education Week.

Evie writes,

At the heart of the debate of the discipline guidance is why those differing discipline rates occur and the role of the federal government in addressing them. Also at issue: whether schools’ efforts to limit “exclusionary discipline,” such as expulsions and suspensions, have helped students feel more supported or have too severely limited teacher discretion in disciplining students.

(more…)

Over 75% of Mass Shooters Communicate Prior to Their Attacks

US-Mass-Attacks-2017

In what I view as further support for state and Federal “Red Flag” legislation allowing law enforcement to seek an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” sometimes referred to as a “Gun Violence Restraining Order”, a report released today from the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), part of the United States Secret Service, sheds new light on mass attacks carried out in public places. The NTAC studied 28 incidents that were carried out at 31 sites in 2017 (see map).

Highlights from the report include:

  • Over three-quarters (79%) made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks. On average, those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not.
  • Nearly half were motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic, or other issue[s].
  • Over half had histories of criminal charges, mental health symptoms, and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms prior to their attacks. The most common symptoms observed were related to psychosis (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions) and suicidal thoughts.
  • All had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and over half had indications of financial instability in that timeframe.

 

The key findings from the report, “support existing best practices that the U.S. Secret Service has established in the field of threat assessment. They highlight the importance of gathering information on a person’s background, behaviors, and situational factors; corroborating the information from multiple sources; assessing the risk the individual poses for violence; and identifying intervention points to mitigate that risk.   I’ve been discussing these intervention points with members of the NTAC to better understand what we can do to protect our children from threats at school. (more…)

March For Our Lives? There is a better way

 

Today is the day.  March 24th, 2018.  March For Our Lives is happening in over 800 cities around the globe.  Not coincidentally, I was a guest on Cavuto Live on FNC because I have suggested that there is an alternative path which will keep our kids & teachers safe at school.  The path that I believe most effective is that we must take steps to secure our schools.  Second, we must keep firearms out of the hands of those that would do themselves or other harm.  There is common ground here.

Why Not March for Our Lives?

In the days immediately following the murders of 17 innocent children and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), a very familiar narrative began to emerge.  It started, as it always does, with fervent questions.  Why did this happen?  Why did this happen in Parkland? Why at Marjory Stoneman Douglas?  Why is this happening again? Why? Why? Why?  We must do something, became a unifying cry.  But the unanswered question was, do what?

Before the families had begun to mourn, a litany of national gun control factions descended on Parkland. Organizing.  Agitating.  Inculcating.   With a well-worn refrain of gun control demands, they found willing recruits still reeling from the shock of the savagery. The TV media had already arrived in Parkland; together they would prove to be a potent union.  Live feeds.  Town halls.  Justifiable anger.

But in my view, it was and is the wrong prescription.  As a nation, we’ve been down this path before.  Many times.  Too many times.  This time must be different.

Three major legislative victories in the past five weeks, tell me that we are on the right path.  We have found common ground and ideas that will help to prevent another tragedy like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Just this week, Arizona Governor Ducey has proposed legislation, Safe Arizona Schools (pdf) based on the legislation we helped pass in Florida.  Here’s a look at what it does and here’s commentary from AZ Central’s Jon Gabriel.

ARIZONA PRIORITIES

As Arizonans shared their priorities during the stakeholder process, common themes were identified, including an urgency for:

  • Increased mental and behavioral health resources at schools
  • Restricting access to firearms for individuals who pose a severe threat to themselves or others, while respecting the second amendment rights of law-abiding Arizonans
  • Increased school resource officer and law enforcement presence at schools
  • Enhanced background checks

THE PLAN

Our proposal includes initiatives that are responsive to the priorities of Arizonans.

  • Invests in mental and behavioral health resources at schools
  • Severe Threat Order of Protection (STOP) to restrict firearm access for individuals who are a danger to themselves or others
  • Enhances background checks by improving the completeness and accuracy of the criminal history database
  • Establishes the Center for School Safety, creating a confidential, centralized reporting tip line to report and investigate concerns of school safety
  • Increases school resource officer funding and training and increases the presence of law enforcement on school grounds
  • Eliminates background check gaps
  • Respects the second amendment rights of law-abiding Arizonans

Sound familiar?  Kudos to Arizona for making a substantive proposal.  It’s now up to the Arizona legislature to pass these proposals.  We’ve shown how to do it in Florida.

As parents of the victim’s of MSD, we will continue to build on common ground across the US.  State by state and at the Federal level.  More on that later…

 

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