Critics have slammed Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie all day amid news that — contrary to Runcie's repeated claims — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz was involved in the controversial Promise disciplinary program before becoming a mass killer. Now Runcie is pushing back by blaming scattered record-keeping and insisting he gave the best information he had at the time about Cruz's participation in Promise.
In a phone interview with New Times this afternoon, the superintendent said the district keeps student data in multiple systems — sometimes only in paper files, which took time to review. Runcie acknowledged that the revelation about Cruz's Promise participation has further damaged the public's trust in the district, though he insisted officials were trying to be transparent.
"It does put a dent in our credibility, but what I'll say is that what we're trying to do is balance being as responsive as we can with the information that we have," he said.
For months, Runcie and other district administrators insisted Cruz had nothing to do with Promise, a program in which students who commit misdemeanors can attend an alternative school rather than be arrested. But early today, WLRN broke the news that Cruz had been assigned to the program in 2013 while in middle school. The revelation swiftly caused a public backlash against Runcie and other leaders, and Sen. Marco Rubio suggested he'd been personally misled.
It's unclear if Cruz actually attended the program. District officials say it appears he attended an intake interview at the school where Promise is housed but did not complete the recommended three-day assignment, which was made after he vandalized a school bathroom.
Runcie said today that in the initial checks, district staff did not review Cruz's elementary- and middle-school records. Yet in a previous interview with New Times, he made multiple comments that Cruz had "never" been in Promise or even referred to it.
He said he should have better qualified his comments about Cruz's involvement with the program.
"If we start coming back as a district, 'You know what, I'm going to hold back; I can't give you information now until we're 100 percent; that might take several months,' that's not going to fly in the public," he said. "People want as much information as we have, and that's it. And we gave folks the information we had at the time."
The superintendent said the district will review its handling of discipline data as part of its overall reviews post-Parkland. An outside review of Cruz's time at the school district is underway and expected to wrap up next month.
Asked what he would tell a public that now questions how forthcoming the district is being, Runcie said, "I would assure the public that all we're trying to do is be as transparent as possible as quickly as possible."