The Broward County School District now says that gunman Nikolas Cruz was once referred to a program that provides alternatives to arrests, contradicting earlier statements made by Superintendent Robert Runcie.
District spokeswoman Tracy Clark said in a statement that on Friday, the district analyzed data and confirmed that while Cruz was attending Westglades Middle in Parkland in 2013, he was referred to the district’s Promise program for a charge of vandalism or destruction of property of less than $1,000. He was scheduled to attend Pine Ridge Alternative Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“However, … 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,” Clark said.
She said the district is reviewing records to determine if the change was made by a school administrator or the team that worked on the individual education plan Cruz received as a special needs student. She said the facts should be known early next month after a Tallahassee consultant completes an inexpedient review of Cruz’s history in the district, which Runcie asked for on March 6.
“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,” Clark said.
Students who complete Promise avoid being arrested. Cruz was never arrested, despite not completing it.
Critics of the program say it’s part of a culture of lax discipline that allowed Cruz to escape arrests and easily buy an AR-15-style rifle that he used for a Feb. 14 shooting, where he killed 17 and wounded 17 others.
Clark said that the district “correctly and accurately stated that Nikolas Cruz did not participate in the Promise Program … while attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”
However, in a Feb. 28 press conference, Runcie said Cruz had no connection to the Promise program at all.
“This particular individual was never a participant in the Promise program. He wasn’t eligible for it,” Runcie said at the time. “There’s no connection between Cruz and the district’s Promise program.”
In more recent comments, Runcie has said Cruz wasn’t involved in Promise while attending Stoneman Douglas. It’s unclear when Runcie knew about the middle school referral.
“This tragedy has required everyone to move quickly to meet a variety of new and unprecedented demands, including answering many questions on wide-ranging topics, such as Promise,” Clark said in an email to the Sun Sentinel.
“Our district’s and superintendent Runcie’s previous comments were an honest effort to respond with what was believed at the time to be correct information,” Clark said. “The district has now learned new details – and that information is being shared – proof of the district’s ongoing commitment to transparency.”
Reached Monday, Runcie declined to comment, saying he will make a statement at a 5:30 p.m. meeting at Piper High that the district scheduled several weeks ago to address concerns about the program.