Sending our Teachers into Battle

UPDATE: As reported in the New York Post, a New York City teacher, Aida Sehic, who complained of horrific racial, sexual, and physical abuse from students has settled a lawsuit against the Department of Education, The Post has learned.

Sehic and the DOE agreed to resolve the case this week for an undisclosed but “substantial” sum, according to her attorney, Bryan Glass.  Sehic’s Manhattan federal suit said students in Bronx and Manhattan schools cracked her nose with a bag of metal rulers, stabbed her with a mechanical pencil, routinely demanded sex acts. “Some kids wanted to learn but there were those who wouldn’t let them,” she said. “You can’t kick the kids out and the administration blames you. What can you do as a teacher?” 

 It’s unfortunate when the only route available to teachers is to sue the school districts that fail to protect them.

Every day across America, our teachers enter our public schools facing unsafe conditions to do the jobs they love.  While teachers have always faced challenges, from the recalcitrant student, not wanting to learn but to disrupt, to battles over adequate pay and job security. However, there are new and increasingly pervasive threats to our teachers emerging from the students themselves, our classroom can become battle zones.

Many teachers face these threats with unsupportive, even hostile school and district administrators, without support from parents & the community, and even without the backup of their very own teacher’s unions–that should have their backs.  Increasingly, our teachers are finding they are alone in the classroom.

Teachers facing these new threats are speaking up and sharing their experiences in an upcoming educational documentary called Silenced Classroom.  Here is a preview of their calls for help.

Based on the nearly hundreds of Broward County teachers that reached out to me (and to others) this past year, we know this is a huge problem and that many of you fear reprisals if you speak up.  So we are creating a reporting site where you can share your stories, anonymously if you prefer, and provide strength to each other, hold the system accountable and create lasting change in the Broward County School District.

Please share your stories and know that you are no longer alone.

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.

Another Failure by Broward Schools

UPDATE 2/13/2019: After several days of asking Sun Sentinel journalists to look into the details surrounding the rejection by the Broward County School District of proposed legislation that would have put a focus on school safety and security, the Sun Sentinel published their story.

Failure by Broward County Schools leaders. Almost every day we discover more evidence of the failure by Superintendent Robert Runcie and Broward Schools to take school safety seriously.  Several people informed me that Parkland parent Stephen Feuerman read part of a 2013 Broward School board agenda item on school safety at last evening’s MSD Parent meeting, hosted by Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

When you look at the agenda in more detail, it is damning for Superintendent Runcie and the School Board because both failed to implement promised school safety measures after the Sandy Hook tragedy, yet unabashedly raised tax dollars for school safety via the 2014 $800 million SMART Bond.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook legislation was proposed to create an independent entity to handle school safety in Broward County. Runcie and the Board moved quickly to stop this effort and promised to do many things that *could* have had an impact on the lives of our children, spouses, and community.

In 2013 Mr. Runcie wrote,

There is proposed legislation that would allow Broward County voters to establish a special taxing district to fund security, safety and mental health needs. While we very much appreciate this effort on behalf of our school district, we have concerns with this proposal. A special taxing district, if approved by the voters would not generate revenue until 2015. Although more funding is always welcome, the School Board cannot wait, and is not waiting, that long to address its safety concerns. 

emphasis added

In an effort to make the case that a special taxing district was not needed, the Superintendent and the School Board indicated that they would take a number of steps to ensure school safety.  They said,

The School Board has:

  • Requested our municipal and county law enforcement to increase their presence at our schools.
  • Required each school to review its school safety plan. This review is in addition to the annual review that schools already are required to perform.
  • Initiated a survey of each school site to determine the needs and costs to provide further hardening (e.g., retrofitting windows, doors, installing different locks).
  • Assigned our limited corps of School District Police Officers to maintain an increased presence at schools that do not have full-time, dedicated School Resource Officers (SRO’s.)
  • Instructed all of our schools to engage in mock emergency drills and practice lockdowns.
  • Instituted additional training for our School Security Specialists and Campus Security Monitors.The School Board intends to expand its SRO Program to provide an SRO at each school. We are currently exploring options for how this can be accomplished in the immediate future.

If any of these recommendations sound familiar it is in fact,  because they are.  Fast forward 5 years and several of them were found in the MSD Commission report. These should have been completed back in 2013 and certainly after the $800m SMART Bond, a complete failure by Robert Runcie and Broward County Schools.

Superintendent Runcie is pushing a narrative that school safety wasn’t really a topic before MSD. His minions have even gone as far as saying the killer is a creation of the Parkland community. I went to Twitter tonight to combat this narrative and try to set the record straight about the failure by Superintendent Robert Runcie and by Broward Schools to address school safety, as they promised to do in 2013.  For those on Twitter, see this thread:

http://bcpsagenda.browardschools.com/…/19…/53696/index.html…

I have archived the original documents on Scribd.

Threat Assessment in Florida Schools: The US Secret Service Perspective

US Secret Service LogoNow that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission’s initial report has been sent to the Florida Governor and to the leaders of the Florida House & Senate, I’d like to share a few of the recommendations that went into the report, recommendations that I was privileged to work on with the team from the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), a part of the United States Secret Service.

It’s an honor to work with Dr. Lina Alathari and the amazing team at NTAC.  Dr. Alathari, who not only testified to the MSD Commission in July 2018 (see her presentation below) but the NTAC team was ready to help Florida with state-specific recommendations on school safety & threat assessment.


 

Here is a look at that collaboration.  I am pleased to say that most if not all recommendations were included in the MSD Commission report.  I’d love to get your feedback and comments.

 

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission
Behavioral Threat Assessment Recommendations
Presented by Commissioner Ryan Petty
Developed in collaboration with the National Threat Assessment Center, U.S. Secret Service

The scope of a behavioral assessment program in Florida’s K-12 schools should include identifying concerning behaviors displayed by current and former students and employees, assessing those who require intervention and managing their risk of violence or other unwanted outcomes.  Consideration should also be given to future expansion of any state requirements to include institutions of higher education (IHEs).

Oversight

  • The Florida Department Of Education (DOE) should be required to establish and maintain oversight for how the threat assessment process is designed and implemented across all Florida school districts.  This includes, but is not limited to, establishing standards for training, membership on threat assessment teams (TATs), investigative procedures, and reporting requirements.  An implementation deadline should be established.
    • As part of establishing and maintaining oversight over the threat assessment process, DOE should be required to standardize documentation and assessment procedures statewide that are based on the latest research and best practices in the field of threat assessment.  DOE must update those procedures on a continuing basis.
  • Each school district should be responsible for ensuring that each individual school within its district is covered by a TAT, whether that team is coordinated at the district, school, or multi-school level.  Each team must meet the standards established by the DOE while directing, managing, and documenting each threat assessment.
  • DOE’s reporting requirements should include such things as the number of incidents referred to the TAT, investigations conducted, individuals deemed at-risk, and interventions used.  When establishing the requirements, legislators should look to the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information, for guidance.
  • Every school should be required by law to promote the FortifyFL App by reminding students of the anonymous reporting tool at the beginning of each school year and at least quarterly throughout the year. FortifyFL App reminders should be conspicuously posted throughout the schools.

 

Department of Education Standardized Protocols

  • Threat assessment program must include tools and protocols for identifying students of concern, assessing those who require intervention and managing their risk of violence or other unwanted outcomes.  Threat Assessment Teams (TATs) should not only focus on the prevention of school violence, but on a range of at-risk student behaviors, including bullying, depression, suicidality, self-harm, and drug use, among others.
  • All TATs should be comprised of specific static members from diverse disciplines, such as mental health and counseling, school administration, teaching staff, and law enforcement.  If the TAT is based at the district level or multi-school level, then each individual school must have a designated TAT point of contact who will be a part of any threat assessment affecting that school.  Other additional school personnel with direct knowledge of the assessed child and the child’s behavior should also be brought in on a case by case basis.
  • TATs should be required to meet at least monthly and be proactive, not just reactive.  Acting proactively includes looking for points of early intervention when students are exhibiting lower-levels of concerning behavior, continually assessing school climate, evaluating management resources and identifying new ones, as well as assessing anti-bullying efforts. (see Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence)
  • TATs should have a case-tracking system and protocols that document the assessment process.  This would include requirements for responding to initial reports within a specified time frame and longer-term monitoring for the person of concern to ensure continued stability.
    • When school is in session, TATs should be required to convene, in-person or by phone, within 24 hours of receiving a referral.
    • When school is not in session, while TAT capabilities may have to be scaled down, the TAT must maintain continuity throughout school breaks to receive information on new cases and help monitor cases that require ongoing management.  

 

Assessment Tools and Standards

  • All behavioral threat assessments should be tiered with higher tiers reserved for the more concerning conduct.  While a threat assessment instrument will allow for consistency across districts, as well as information-sharing and documentation, the room should also be allotted for establishing situational context beyond what may be available in the instrument.  TATs should be encouraged to capture and respond to the concern of all bystanders, even if the threat assessment instrument designates a situation as low-risk.
  • Each threat assessment should focus on identifying prohibited and concerning behaviors, not just specific threats of harm.  Maintaining a low-threshold of concern to facilitate early intervention is key to prevention. (see Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence)
  • Each TAT must proactively identify potential resources within the schools and surrounding communities to which the child can be referred.  This could include mental health treatment providers, counselors, mentorship programs, or social services, among others. This list should be revisited at least annually, and points of contact should be established and verified.  
  • TATs and Individualized Education Program (IEP) committees must coordinate information and courses of action regarding Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students.

 

Enforcement and Training

  • DOE or school districts should provide specialized training to TAT members on topics such as behavioral indicators, conducting thorough threat assessments, and risk management strategies.
  • School districts should provide mandatory training that is customized for those who may report concerning behaviors, including all school personnel, parents, and fellow students. This training should be updated or re-enforced on a regular basis.  The goal of such training should be to clarify what types of concerning behaviors these persons might observe, and to whom those concerns should be reported.
  • School personnel should be trained on commonly misunderstood issues related to FERPA.
  • Reporting observed behaviors to the TAT should be mandatory for all school personnel, and sanctions should be identified for non-reporting.
  • Efforts should be made to address the culture of underreporting that incentivizes schools to minimize their response to concerning situations.

So you want to be a school guardian?

I frequently am asked about arming school staff and whether or not it is a good idea for improving school safety. As part of our work on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, we developed critical recommendations to improve school safety and protect students and teachers. But let’s save that discussion for another time.

In the words of my good friend Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County Florida, “when seconds count, minutes don’t matter” and that’s why the Florida Legislature created the Aaron Feis Guardian program.

Here are the requirements for any school staff member to become an armed campus guardian in the State of Florida.  Currently, these requirements surpass the training required for School Resource Officers (certified law enforcement officers) assigned to schools.

 

Aaron Feis Guardian Program Requirements

  1. Hold a valid license issued under s.790.06. (concealed firearms license / must have passed a background check)
  2. Complete 132 total hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training conducted by Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission-certified instructors, which must include:
    1. Eighty hours of firearms instruction based on the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission’s Law Enforcement Academy training model, which must include at least 10 percent but no more than 20 percent more rounds fired than associated with academy training. Program participants must achieve an 85 percent pass rate on the firearms training.
    2. Sixteen hours of instruction in precision pistol.
    3. Eight hours of discretionary shooting instruction using state-of-the-art simulator exercises.
    4. Eight hours of instruction in defensive tactics.
    5. Twelve hours of instruction in legal issues.
    6. Eight hours of instruction in active shooter or assailant scenarios.
  3. Pass a psychological evaluation administered by a psychologist licensed under chapter 490 and designated by the Department of Law Enforcement and submit the results of the evaluation to the sheriff’s office. The Department of Law Enforcement is authorized to provide the sheriff’s office with mental health and substance abuse data for compliance with this paragraph.
  4. Submit to and pass an initial drug test and subsequent random drug tests in accordance with the requirements of s.112.0455 and the sheriff’s office.
  5. Successfully complete ongoing training, weapon inspection, and firearm qualification on at least an annual basis.
  6. Successfully complete at least 12 hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program.

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

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