Broward County school officials made a huge mistake that resulted in the publication of private information about the student charged with murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — and now they're going after the reporters who published the information, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The school district has asked that the Sun Sentinel and two reporters who published the private information be held in contempt of court for taking advantage of the school system's mistake.
“They opted to report, publicly, information that this court had ordered to be redacted despite agreeing, on the record, that this information was protected by both Florida and federal law,” the district claims, according to court records.
Reporters and editors at the paper stand by their decision to release the information, and media lawyer Tom Julin doesn't believe the paper did anything wrong.
“The problem is the School Board’s problem and not the Sun Sentinel’s,” Julin said. “The Sun Sentinel is entitled to publish the information that it lawfully obtained even if that information should have been redacted from the document that was released."
What was the mistake?
A judge ordered the school district to release a report about the school history of Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with multiple counts of murder from the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The school district complied, releasing a heavily redacted version of the report that concealed a significant amount of detail.
However, in redacting the report, someone made a huge mistake: The redacted portions of the report could easily be revealed by copying and pasting the text into Microsoft Word.
The Sun Sentinel discovered this by way of a tip from a reader on Facebook, and published a story including the private details of Cruz's history in Broward County schools.
What was in the report?
The Sun Sentinel's story painted the district in an unfavorable light, alleging that Cruz showed ample signs of needing therapeutic and special education services but did not receive them due to multiple school errors.
"In the past, Runcie said that when Cruz turned 18 and rejected special education placement, the district could no longer provide him with the services given to students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. But the consultant’s report reveals for the first time that Cruz himself requested to return to special education, and his request went nowhere."
Three days after he was forced by the district to withdraw from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, he purchased an AR-15 rifle. A year after his ejection from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a school he insisted he would graduate from, he returned and murdered 14 students and three coaches."
What does the district say?
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said the district wasn't attempting to hide anything by redacting the report. He said they attempted to conceal the information due to the judge's orders and the defense's objection to publicizing the report. In fact, Runcie said, the district wanted to release the full report.
“It should not be insinuated or suggested at all that we wanted to redact or hide portions from the public," Runcie told the Sun Sentinel.
A hearing hasn't yet been scheduled to address the complaint.