A new story in this weekend's Sun-Sentinel exposes more dark secrets hidden within the Broward County School system, including the depths of the behavior issue inside its schools and why the school district allowed misbehaved children to return to normal classrooms with little to no repercussions.
Unfortunately, what the paper discovered leads to more questions than answers.
What did the paper reveal?
The most alarming discovery the paper made was that Broward County Schools, including superintendent Robert Runcie and other district administrators, appear more concerned with public relations and how their schools look rather than addressing misbehaving students and ensuring the safety of students. The paper reported:
The culture of leniency allows children to engage in an endless loop of violations and second chances, creating a system where kids who commit the same offense for the 10th time may be treated like it’s the first
Indeed, in a review of Broward's disciplinary policies, the Sun-Sentinel discovered students are often considered "first time offenders" even if they are not and the district's claims of successfully reforming bad behavior are "exaggerated." That exaggeration gives Broward schools a "PR benefit," the newspaper reported, namely in allowing officials to claim safer schools with lower disciplinary rates and higher graduation rates.
Former teachers told the Sun-Sentinel that Broward School officials have cultivated an environment that allows misbehaving students to thrive. They explained they were often told to not report disruptive students to school administrators because doing so could "tarnish" the school's image.
"It was so many things. I had three students bring knives to my classroom. One was out of the classroom for one day. Another had so many things on his record, he was gone for five days. None were expelled," Mary Fitzgerald, who taught in the district for 37 years, said. "My principal basically would tell me it was his job to market the school. He was adamant about not looking bad."
What about the PROMISE program?
Runcie revealed last week, after he had previously denied it, that February's mass killer was placed in the PROMISE program, a program that allows students who commit misdemeanors to avoid jail by attending an alternative school where they are counseled.
Runcie told the Sun-Sentinel the program, which he implemented, has been highly successful, even seeing a 90 percent success rate. However, Runcie's figure is highly distorted because the district does not consider students re-offenders as long as they do not commit the same offense in the same year. In addition, students are offered a clean slate each new school year.
"It’s extremely problematic. You can develop a psyche that it is OK to commit crime because you can refresh the clock every year," Tim Sternberg, the former assistant principal at Broward's alternative school, told the Sun-Sentinel.
In addition, the Sun-Sentinel discovered Broward County Schools is handing out much more lenient punishments. From the report:
More than five years ago, a high school student who used profanity toward a staff member would receive a three- to 10-day suspension. That was reduced to one to two days after the discipline chart was revised. The first violation for disruptive classroom behavior called for an in-school suspension of one to five days. Later, it was reduced to a suspension of under one day.
Since the 2012-13 school year, suspensions have declined 27 percent, according to the Florida Department of Education. Incidents reported to law enforcement have fallen 8 percent. The number of arrests per 1,000 students: down 64 percent.
As the Sun-Sentinel detailed, punishments include detention, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, being placed in the alternative school and of course, the PROMISE program.
All in all, years of PR-related concerns have left faculty afraid, Fitzgerald said.
“A lot of principals are afraid. You don’t report theft because reporting it makes your school look dangerous," she told the newspaper. “There are a lot of things going on in the school that are being overlooked. Only when things are obvious and egregious will they arrest the child."