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

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.

We Found Another Big Piece of the School Shooting Puzzle–An Antibiotic for Suicide

As many of you know, since the killing of our daughter Alaina at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland Florida on Valentines Day, Kelly and I have been searching, studying, & looking for solutions to eliminate the national scourge of school shootings. When it comes to solutions that are focused on school safety and proven to work, we are finding pieces of the puzzle all over the place.  This past week we discovered a BIG piece of the puzzle, one that could fundamentally “change the game” for early identification and intervention.  We were introduced to Dr. Kelly Posner (@posnerkelly) and the work she leads in the field of suicide prevention as Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University.   

 

Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is a professor at Columbia whose work is saving lives in forty-five nations on six continents. The President of the American Psychiatric Association noted her work “could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of antibiotics…” The U.S. Department of Defense (Dr. Franklin’s quotes) called her work “nothing short of a miracle,” is central to their National Strategy, and stated, “her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide.” The CDC noted that her work is “changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the US and worldwide.” After being commissioned by the FDA to develop their scientific methods of suicide risk identification, the FDA has characterized her work as “setting a standard in the field.”  Dr. Posner Gerstenhaber is about to receive The Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, the highest level of award a civilian can get for impacting the nation.  Here is a recent interview (2/22/2018) with Dr. Posner on CNN:

 

 

Enter the Columbia Lighthouse Project

Let me share a bit of Dr. Posner’s work.  The Columbian Lighthouse Project and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) is in use in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has seen a 22% reduction in suicide.  It has helped to reduce the suicide rate by 65% over the first 20 months in the Tennessee programs of the nation’s largest provider of outpatient community behavioral health care, and reduced the suicide rate in Utah, the first decrease in suicide in almost a decade and helped to reverse an alarming, and previously increasing trend.

 

How Does the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) Work?

The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) supports suicide risk assessment through a series of simple, plain-language questions that anyone can ask. The answers help users identify whether someone is at risk for suicide, assess the severity and immediacy of that risk, and gauge the level of support that the person needs. Users of the C-SSRS tool ask people:

  • Whether and when they have thought about suicide (ideation)
  • What actions they have taken — and when — to prepare for suicide
  • Whether and when they attempted suicide or began a suicide attempt that was either interrupted by another person or stopped of their own volition

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