If the FBI and local law enforcement had followed established policy, the Valentine’s Day murder of 17 high-school students by Nikolas Cruz could very well have been stopped. Gaining less media attention, on the other hand, is the role of educational policies in the total failure to protect the students from a known threat.
As the Sun-Sentinel of Florida’s Broward County reports, Nikolas Cruz “kicked doors, cursed at teachers, fought with and threatened classmates and brought a backpack with bullets to school.” In 2014, administrators transferred Cruz to an alternative school for students with “emotional and behavioral disabilities” but two years later changed course and retuned Cruz to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz was banished for disciplinary violations but “never expelled from Broward schools. Legally, he couldn’t be.”
Under federal law, the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Nikolas Cruz had a right to a “free and appropriate” education at a public school. As special education lawyer Stephanie Langer told the Sun-Sentinel, “You can’t just kick kids out of the public schools because you are afraid of them, or because they are hard to educate.” In Parkland, Florida, that notion overrode the right of other students to an education free from fear, and as it turned out, deprived them of their right to life as well.
Broward County Schools superintendent Robert Runcie refused to reveal Nikolas Cruz’s school records and told reporters he had no “knowledge” of Cruz’s threats while a student. As Runcie told the American Prospect in 2013, he sought to close the “racial achievement” gap and noticed a “huge differential in minority students, black male students in particular, in terms of suspensions and arrests.”
Runcie fought against “zero tolerance” policies and implemented a code that “prohibited arrests in some circumstances, and developed alternatives to suspension.” Instead of suspensions, students are referred to the PROMISE program, in which they receive counseling then return to school.
Like other programs aimed at shutting down the “school-to-prison” pipeline, PROMISE aims to help “students of color,” and this opened the door for Nikolas de Jesus Cruz. Under the regime of political correctness, “Latinos” and/or “Hispanics” qualify as people of color, regardless of national origin or skin shade. So Cruz fit the “metrics” of the program and was not arrested.
In his interview with Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, Jake Tapper of CNN noted that in 2013 the local school board opted to pursue the “least punitive means of discipline” instead of arresting students for crimes.
“Were there not incidents committed by the shooter as a student,” Tapper asked, “had this new policy not been in place that otherwise he would have been arrested for and not able to legally buy a gun?”
“What you’re referring to is the PROMISE Program,” Israel responded, “And it’s giving the school the ability under certain circumstances not to call the police, not to get the police involved on misdemeanor offenses and take care of it within the school. It’s an excellent program. It’s helping many, many people.”
“What if he should be in the criminal justice system?” Tapper said. “What if he does something violent to a student? What if he takes bullets to school? What if he takes knives to schools? What if he threatens the lives of fellow students?”
“Then he goes to jail,” Israel said, to which Tapper responded, “But that’s not what happened with the shooter.” As the world knows, what happened was a mass murder that could have been prevented at several levels, starting with school.
Superintendent Runcie’s policy kept the violent Cruz safe from arrest but at this writing, nobody is calling for Runcie to resign. Likewise, the mass murder has not prompted changes to the PROMISE program that places students in danger.
Sheriff Israel has thus far retained his job. The lawyer for Scot Peterson, the armed deputy who failed to engage the shooter, is claiming that the officer is “not a coward” and acted appropriately.
Nikolas Cruz did everything but take out an ad on the Super Bowl to announce his deadly intentions. The mighty Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to follow up on explicit warnings that Cruz would shoot up a school.
After he did, FBI agents claimed deep regrets over the massacre but FBI boss Christopher Wray resisted a call to resign from Florida governor Rick Scott. A ballpark figure for FBI agents who will be disciplined or fired is zero.
In the Parkland, Florida case, political correctness, plus incompetence, plus cowardice, equals 17 deaths and fathomless sorrow for the victims’ families.
Meanwhile, according to news reports, Nikolas Cruz wants to plead guilty in return for a promise not to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors should drop back and punt on that one. If Nikolas Cruz can take 17 lives and preserve his own, add the criminal justice system to the list of failures.