An audit has found that many Broward County schools were not following the proper procedures for conducting “threat assessments” on students who posed a danger.
After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, the school district asked an outside auditing firm to determine whether administrators systemwide were using all of the required forms and completing them properly.
They were not.
Auditors reviewed a sample of 60 threat assessments — out of 642 entered into a district educational management database over three school years: from September 2015 through June 2018. The audit did not include names of schools or students or any specifics of the situations.
Among the findings:
— Fourteen cases sampled had no supporting documentation at all.
— Of the 46 that had paperwork, only 16 included records that were “substantially complete.”
— One elementary school evaluation of a “medium-risk” threat was missing 18 required documents.
— Of the samples, no high school conducted a “high-level” threat evaluation properly. One, in fact, did not complete any of the required forms.
The reviewers found “the existing process is extremely paper driven” and recommended that the district turn to an electronic system to improve and streamline the process.
They also concluded that the district had no formal process for follow-up to check that the documents were fully completed or to ensure that the recommended help for a child actually occurred.
The findings largely bolster the concerns of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public High School Safety Commission, which blasted the ineffective threat assessment process at Stoneman Douglas.
The statewide commission reviewed the paperwork for a September 2016 threat assessment done on Nikolas Cruz — the eventual gunman — and found forms missing or incomplete. The school’s assistant principal, Jeff Morford, was unfamiliar with how to do a threat assessment, and the principal, Ty Thompson, was not engaged in the process or routinely informed of them, the commission reported.
Both men are now under internal investigation.
Generally, threats in Broward Schools range from low- to middle- to a high-level threat. The greatest threats are those in which the student seems to have a specific target, plan of violence and a means to carry it out.
In 2016, Stoneman Douglas considered Cruz, then 18, a high-level threat because he wrote “kill” on a notebook and was obsessed with guns. He met key indicators for aggression and depression.
The district barred him from carrying a backpack and he was forced to withdraw from the school months later. He’s now accused of killing 17 people in the February 2018 massacre.
State law now requires threat assessment teams in every school, but the commission found that they “are not fully developed, and there is a need for consistency, training and overall improvement in the threat assessment process.”
The commission warned: “Currently, there is not a standard threat assessment process in Florida, and there is no automated threat assessment system known to the Commission. The current threat assessment process in Florida is school- or district-specific and there is little to no information sharing as a result of the threat assessment process.”
Broward Schools has a 50-page threat assessment manual for educators.
The process requires teams to be convened to evaluate the threat and complete numerous forms to guide the decision-making and remedy the problem.
The audit, conducted by the Fort Lauderdale office of RSM US LLC, looked at whether the files chosen in the sample had verified student statements, checklists of forms, data collection sheets, student supervision plans, proper signatures and other required items. Auditors first met with district officials in August. The final report is dated Dec. 7, 2018.
District spokeswoman Kathy Koch, in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Dec. 18, revealed that the district had contracted with RSM to review threat assessments completed during prior years. “The report is being finalized and has not yet been presented to the District,” she said.
A month later, the Sun Sentinel asked for a copy of the audit, under Florida’s public records law.
On March 6, the district denied the newspaper a copy, saying the report “has not yet been received by the District.”
The Sun Sentinel protested and received a copy March 15.
Even before the completion of the audit, the district knew it had problems with its threat assessment process. The state commission took public testimony on the district’s process in July of last year and heard from experts on improved ways of handling them.
The Broward School district reviewed its threat assessment procedures with school administrators before the start of this school year and provided intensive retraining, the district said in a written statement to the Sun Sentinel.
Earlier this month, in response to the audit and the commission findings, the School Board adopted an official policy on threat assessments.
The district also is moving away from a paper-based system, in which threat assessments were kept on paper at the schools. In February, the School Board approved buying a digital, centralized system to carry out threat assessments. The system will be able to monitor compliance and provide accountability.
It’s expected to be ready at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, the district said.