There’s three ways to read the decision by Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie to cancel last Thursday’s town hall meeting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School because of “student safety concerns” over planned protests.
First, Stoneman Douglas — the site of the nation’s worst high school shooting — is still not a very safe place.
Second, Runcie was afraid he couldn’t control the message as he did when presenting a recent progress report, where school board members were asked to stand by his side but answer no questions.
Third, like we’ve said before, Runcie’s talk of transparency, transparency, transparency is just so much talk.
Whatever the reason, Broward’s embattled superintendent showed a tin ear for public relations by cancelling his first town hall in Parkland since a state commission released its critical report on the shooting.
And the cancellation has blown up on him, making whatever happens next a much bigger deal.
The reaction on social media has been scathing. People compare him to the eight BSO deputies who failed to enter the school during the shooting: cowardly. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch wrote Runcie a letter criticizing the cancellation. Runcie’s spokeswoman said the congressman later spoke to Runcie and better understood the threat.
Could we all better understand the threat?
It was shocking to learn the district feared that holding a town hall on the same evening as a girl’s soccer match would put lives at risk. In a statement, it said it didn’t know “how many protestors might gather, whether they were going to be disorderly, or if they might stray from the meeting onto the campus.”
Stray from the meeting onto the campus? Seriously? Eleven months after the massacre, people can still stray onto campus? What about all those safety upgrades? What a horrible message to send students, teachers and staff who go to Stoneman Douglas every day.
And if the threats were serious enough to cancel Runcie’s public accounting, why does law enforcement have no record of them?
After the shooting, we learned the district’s failure to report threats had contributed to the day’s horrific events. Runcie promised things would change — and had changed. But in this case, there is no evidence he has kept his promise.
On Saturday, Runcie’s spokeswoman announced that he would instead hold four private meetings for parents with students in ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. To get in, people must show identification, as though crossing a border.
Must they also prove they have a child at school? As others have asked, what about someone who lost a child in the shooting?
As for everyone else, you’re out of luck. Runcie doesn’t want the people who pay his salary — the taxpayers of Broward County — to hear the questions, the emotions, the suggestions, the anger, and the mood of this community as we prepare to commemorate the Valentine’s Day massacre that left 17 dead and 17 wounded.
So much for transparency.
It reminds us of the public relations consultant he hired after the shooting, the one whose motto is: Stop Talking.
And it’s naive for Runcie to think he can expect everything to remain “just between us” in a school with 3,200 students and 250 teachers and staff.
What is Runcie afraid of? Protesting is an American tradition. Protestors have attended recent school board meetings without incident. And Stoneman Douglas saw protests of more than 500 people after a popular principal was transferred six years ago — and no one was injured.
People, especially those who live in northwest Broward, want the chance to engage the superintendent on what has or hasn’t happened around the shooting. And their voices deserve to be heard by all.
It’s not just people in Parkland, either. This whole community has a stake in our public schools and we’ve got reason to worry. Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’d like to see Runcie gone. And with the legislative session preparing to convene, Broward needs an effective advocate in Tallahassee.
“Everything about this shooting needs to be out in the open,” said Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine of Parkland. “Nothing should be swept under the rug.”
Udine and Deutch are trying to arrange a public town hall somewhere other than the school, and they are asking Runcie to attend. He should.
Udine and Deutch are demonstrating the kind of leadership we expect.
It’s time for Runcie’s bosses on the school board to similarly step up and show some leadership. How much more must they see?
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, David Lyons and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.