Broward schools need to stop downplaying the extent of crime and bullying incidents on their campuses, School Board members said Tuesday
Chairwoman Nora Rupert and School Board member Abby Freedman raised concerns about the under-reporting of incidents uncovered in a South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation.
It found multiple cases of trespassing, violent attacks, break-ins and robberies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that were investigated by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. They should have been reported to the state, but weren’t.
The district’s failure to accurately report makes it impossible to spot a school’s trouble spots and inform parents about safety, the investigation found.
The School Board wanted assurances on Tuesday that future numbers would be accurate and questioned what effect the under-reporting could have on a review of security risks at schools that will soon be conducted by a consultant.
“If they’re looking at incident reports that aren’t necessarily complete or accurate, how are they going to make recommendations?” Freedman asked.
Jeff Moquin, chief of staff for Superintendent Robert Runcie, said the consultant will likely suggest ways to better report incidents, but he said it won’t be auditing reports.
“To the extent that something happens on campus and no one reported it, I’m not sure how they’re going to resolve that in this scope of work,” Moquin said.
Rupert asked Maurice Woods, chief strategy and operations officer for the district, whether the district could conduct monthly reviews of incidents from the Sheriff’s Office and police agencies to ensure everything handled by law enforcement is being properly recorded by the district.
“A question of that specificity, I would ask the board to allow me to follow up with aspecific response. I’m not sure I have a response,” Woods said.
After the meeting, Rupert said, “when it comes to putting more money into security, it would be super helpful to know that they need a fence, and they need a fence because they we’ve got children entering from a backyard that we can’t contain. But we only know about it if we’re informed.”
The Sun Sentinel found at least 10 instances of trespassing at the Parkland school in the last three years, mostly involving former students. The incidents were listed on reports and call logs, but weren’t reported to the state. On Feb. 14, a trespasser entered the campus and killed 17.
April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen was killed, said the school district might have put in extra security if it had been aware of the problems with trespassers.
“It might help them to say, ‘I need another [police officer] on campus. Look we have all these incidents,’” said Schentrup, who is principal of Pembroke Pines Elementary.
The state Department of Education says it requires that data be collected to help schools, districts and the state “assess the extent and nature of problems in school safety.” Parents and businesses also use the data to decide where to locate. But experts say the data provides no value if it’s inaccurate.
Administrators aren’t directly told to fudge reports, said Rebecca Dahl, a retired Broward County principal. But “if you show you’ve got all these incidents, parents won’t put their children in the school because they think it’s not safe. That’s really what happens.”
The School Board agreed Tuesday to pay $900,000 to Safe Haven International, a non-profit security consulting firm based in Macon, Ga., to identify security flaws at the 234 schools in the district. It’s expected to be the most thorough of all safety studies being conducted, with the consultants visiting each school twice in the next few months, as well as reviewing school incident data.
The school district must conduct a risk assessment in order to qualify for $99 million in state dollars to make physical upgrades to schools, such as adding bullet-resistant doors and windows.
Safe Haven is expected to make suggestions for what physical upgrades and changes in procedures may be needed. The firm will visit all schools during the summer and this fall, as well as review incident data at each school.
An initial report is due to the state by Aug. 1, with the final report due by Oct. 5. School district officials say portions of the report will be made public, particularly general recommendations about what’s needed to improve school security.
“It’s going to be presented in a fashion where there are components we can share, while some of the more details about security vulnerabilities will be exempt,” Moquin said.
He said that a safety team at each school conducts its own two-page risk assessments every year to identify potential security needs. But he said it’s rare for an outside consultant to do a thorough review of every school.
“This isn’t the first time they will be assessed, but the first time they will be assessed this comprehensively,” Moquin said.
Until the district is able to make more physical upgrades, the focus will be on ensuring schools are following proper protocols, Runcie said.
“‘We can put in the greatest security measures the world has even known, but if they’re not adhering to it, if they’re not locking gates and classroom doors, it will be for naught,” he said.