The Broward County School Board took action in December that allowed a Marjory Stoneman Douglas coach to keep his job, despite the district’s belief that he sexually harassed two high school students.
They probably didn’t know what they were voting on.
The School Board approved a three-day suspension Dec. 5 for Andrew Medina, an assistant baseball coach and security monitor at Stoneman Douglas who later became the first to spot gunman Nikolas Cruz on campus Feb. 14 — without stopping him before he killed 17 people.
A disciplinary committee had recommended firing Medina in the sexual harassment case, but the punishment was reduced before the school board considered it. The board approved it with no discussion as part of a long list of routine items approved together to save time.
Sixteen other discipline cases also were approved that day. Six employees were fired.
The agenda provided no details about Medina’s case, other than to say that district police investigated it and that he had an opportunity to appear before a committee of employees that makes discipline recommendations.
The committee voted 7-0 on Oct. 4 to recommend firing Medina, who had been accused the previous February of making inappropriate comments to two 17-year-old girls, including Meadow Pollack, one of the 17 killed in the Valentine’s Day shootings.
The district’s investigation of Medina concluded that he asked out one female student and whispered to another: “You are fine as f—.”
“Both students became so uncomfortable with Mr. Medina’s comments and actions, they sought out different routes to their classes in an attempt to avoid him,” says the report, prepared by Robert Spence, a detective with the district’s Special Investigative Unit.
Superintendent Robert Runcie, or his designee, overruled the committee’s recommendation to fire Medina and reduced the discipline to a three-day suspension. The investigation says Craig Nichols, chief of human resources, signed off on the change.
The move happened in the midst of the #metoo movement, when sexual misconduct was dominating headlines. NBC had just fired ‘Today’ host Matt Lauer a week before.
School Board Chairwoman Nora Rupert said she doubts School Board members knew anything about the case when they approved Runcie’s recommendation. She said sometimes, but not always, the School Board receives details about why someone is being disciplined.
“I would have remembered the specifics if they were shared with me, or at least one of my colleagues would have pulled this item for discussion,” Rupert said. “I find it highly irregular not one of us pulled it.”’
Rupert declined to say whether Runcie made a bad call other than to say “it would have been a courtesy to inform the board members and call attention to it so we could have had a heads up.”
School Board member Robin Bartleman said she was unaware of the allegations against Medina until she read about them last week in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“I was shocked when I read the article,” Bartleman said. “We have to do our best to protect kids, and we need to find out what happened in this situation.”
Neither Runcie nor any of the seven other School Board members could be reached for comment, despite attempts by phone on Friday and Monday.
Medina also couldn’t be reached, but he denied the allegations at the time. His lawyer, Russell Williams, said Medina’s most recent evaluation was excellent. He also received the best possible evaluation in 2016.
“There’s somebody at the top that thought that this was too much,” Williams said of the proposed termination. “His evaluations were good, and they didn’t want to lose him as a school monitor.”
School District spokeswoman Tracy Clark said in a statement last week that the administration agreed there was probable cause that Medina committed harassment but agreed to lower the recommended discipline to a three-day suspension.
“There was no direct evidence to distinguish between the conflicting statements provided by the students and the employee, and there were no previous records of discipline for the employee,” Clark said.
The school district has not responded to further questions.
The district has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks for its actions related to the Stoneman Douglas tragedy. The Sun Sentinel has exposed a culture of leniency that allowed unruly students to slide, Stoneman Douglas’ failure to report crimes to the state and questionable actions by Medina and another safety monitor on the day of the shooting.
Medina was recently reassigned to the district’s Technology Service Support Building on Oakland Park Boulevard after video testimony revealed that he was the first to spot killer Cruz trespassing but didn’t approach him and didn’t call for an emergency lockdown of the school. Many questioned why Medina was allowed to be in that position in the first place, given his past issues with sexual harassment.
“Another reason people fed up. Private sector, zero tolerance for this type of predatory behavior,” tweeted Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine, who is a former mayor of Parkland. He said he was perplexed why the administration would overrule the discipline committee’s decisions.
While district officials have yet to say who is on the committee, sources say it often consists of principals, representatives of school police and the legal department and other district administrators.
“It’s a group of people who take that job very seriously,” said Rebecca Dahl, a former principal in the district. “When they say they want to fire you, it means we want you to leave the district because you are not the kind of person who should be working with our kids.”