Robert Runcie has led the Broward County school district since 2011.
Robert Runcie has led the Broward County school district since 2011.
Photo by Emilee McGovern

Critics Slam Runcie After District Contradicts His Statements on Cruz's Disciplinary Record

WLRN dropped a bombshell report this morning: After months of denials from Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and other top officials, the district admitted that, in fact, Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooter Nikolas Cruz was assigned to the controversy-mired Promise program.

Since the first days after the February 14 massacre, critics have blamed the program for allowing Cruz to escape more serious criminal charges before he carried out his attack. But in interviews with New Times, Runcie repeatedly insisted the shooter had nothing to do with Promise, which provides students who commit misdemeanors with in-school counseling and services as an alternative to arrest.

"He didn't actually have any Promise-eligible offense that resulted in him being referred to the program," the seven-year district leader told New Times in March. "Given what was going on, he was never referred to that because that would never have been appropriate for him."

How can Runcie square those denials with the newly released details?

The superintendent didn't return a call for this story. Tracy Clark, a district spokesperson, defended the district in a statement, saying officials had "correctly and accurately stated that Nikolas Cruz did not participate in the PROMISE Program, which is for non-violent infractions while attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."

But Runcie went far beyond simply denying Cruz participated in the program in high school. In interviews New Times, he repeatedly claimed Cruz had "nothing to do with Promise." 

Here's the superintendent, again speaking with New Times in March: "The way you intervene with a student like Nikolas Cruz would have been through the IEP [an individualized plan made for every student with special needs] and have nothing to do with anything connected to some Promise-type program that we have in the district."

Clark said in the statement that district officials had confirmed Cruz's Promise-eligible offense late Friday evening after "diligently analyzing data from multiple sources and systems." She added Cruz does not appear to have completed the recommended three-day assignment.

"Rather than speculate about the possible reasons for his not returning, we feel it’s important to wait until we have the facts associated with his specific circumstances," she wrote.

She did not respond to questions about Runcie's earlier comments to New Times and instead pointed to an independent review of Cruz's school record, which Runcie commissioned in March. That review is expected to be completed next month.

In the meantime, though, Runcie is now facing scorching criticism from survivors of the massacre, as well as the parents of its victims over his apparent lies about Cruz's participation in Promise. Runcie has already been the subject of growing controversy in recent weeks, with angry parents lining up to confront him during a public forum last month.

Monday's revelation brought the controversy soaring to new heights. Joining the fray this morning was Cameron Kasky, one of the #NeverAgain teen activists Runcie has showered with praise:

Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed, called the news "stunning." A member of the state-launched commission investigating the shooting, he wrote in a Twitter thread early Monday that "conflicting discipline programs within the district have created deadly chaos for our children."

Sen. Marco Rubio cast blame on Promise during a speech on the Senate floor in March and then walked back some of his comments after speaking to district officials. This morning, he wrote on Twitter that he also had repeatedly been told Cruz was not in the program.

Clark confirmed to WLRN Sunday that Cruz was assigned to Promise in 2013 after vandalizing a bathroom while he was a student at Westglades Middle School. The confirmation came after two people with knowledge of Cruz's discipline records told the radio station of his involvement with the program, and the station sought comment.

It's worth noting that Promise, which provides counseling and other services aimed at solving the root issue of student misbehavior, is available only for misdemeanor offenses, according to district policy. Had Cruz been arrested on a misdemeanor charge of vandalism rather than diverted to Promise, it would not have prevented him from purchasing a gun.

Promise was launched in 2013 as part of a series of discipline reforms that district officials and school board members touted as historic. The goal was to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and keep students in school rather than put them behind bars when appropriate.

The district is set to host a public forum about Promise from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today at Piper High School, 8000 NW 44th St., in Sunrise.

Here is the full statement the district released today:

“Broward County Public Schools has correctly and accurately stated that Nikolas Cruz did not participate in the PROMISE Program, which is for non-violent infractions, while attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Late Friday evening, after diligently analyzing data from multiple sources and systems, we confirmed that while attending Westglades Middle School in 2013, there was a disciplinary infraction (“Vandalism/Destruction of Property less than $1,000” offense on November 25, 2013, in a bathroom at Westglades Middle School), that could have been a PROMISE eligible offense. However, that while our records indicate that Cruz underwent an intake interview/process at Pine Ridge on November 26, 2013, it does not appear that Cruz completed the recommended three-day assignment/placement.

We continue to review records and systems to determine if the disciplinary placement was modified by school administration or the individualized education plan committee. Rather than speculate about the possible reasons for his not returning, we feel it’s important to wait until we have the facts associated with his specific circumstances. The Superintendent announced on March 6, 2018, that an independent firm is currently conducting a comprehensive review of Cruz’s academic records, services provided to him and the policies and procedures during his time at Broward County Public Schools. The review will conclude in June 2018 with a final report of findings and recommendations.

Once again, Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) PROMISE program is a Districtwide disciplinary initiative that emphasizes intervention and prevention for non-violent, misdemeanor infractions. Through the PROMISE program, students receive behavioral supports, counseling and mentoring in an environment focused on helping them make better choices. The District’s position with the PROMISE program and school discipline reform efforts, in partnership with local law enforcement, has always been explicitly clear – we support — not tie the hands of law enforcement in doing its job in addressing school safety.

We are all continuing to work through this heartbreaking attack on our school community on February 14, 2018. While we cannot undo this tragic event, we are working to understand the conditions that lead to such acts, in hopes of avoiding them here and elsewhere.”

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