Former Stoneman Douglas administrator retires early while under investigation
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas Assistant Principal Jeff Morford. (Stoneman Douglas High School / Courtesy)

Jeff Morford, an assistant principal accused by a state commission of failures related to the Parkland school shooting, has decided to retire early.

The action comes in the middle of a Broward school district investigation to determine whether he should be disciplined for his role in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, 2018, when 17 people were killed and 17 others wounded.

Morford signed up for a deferred retirement program last year and planned to leave in 2023, according to district records. But his last day was Sept. 4, according to a report on Tuesday’s School Board agenda.

He decided to retire early because of his “overall trauma” from the tragedy, said Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association.

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She said prosecutors in the criminal case for killer Nikolas Cruz have required him to rewatch the video of the shooting, which killed one of his close friends, Chris Hixon, a coach and security monitor at the school.

“He’s been retraumatized over and over again,” Maxwell said. “He’s just done.”

Morford could not be reached Thursday.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which is investigating the tragedy, concluded Morford mishandled a September 2016 threat assessment of Cruz, who was a student at Stoneman Douglas at the time.

A commission report from late 2018 states that Morford was not competent in the task and had never handled such an evaluation in his 31 years as an educator.

“Jeff is old school. He only did operations. He never did any discipline at where he was at his previous location and so Jeff said: ‘I don’t even know where to find a threat assessment,’” Assistant Principal Denise Reed testified to the commission.

A student told the commission that he and a classmate told Morford that Cruz could be a school shooter, because Cruz looked up guns on a school computer, mimicked shooting birds on campus and said he liked seeing people in pain.

The student testified that neither Morford, nor a deputy who was in the room, seemed overly concerned and Morford told the boy to Google “autism,” implying that Cruz had autism.

“Morford told the students that Cruz was being sent to alternative school and they did not need to worry,” the report states.

The commission called on the district to investigate Morford’s handling of the threat review and found his inability to answer detailed questions was not credible.

The district hired a law firm in January to review the actions of Morford, two other assistant principals and a security specialist. Former Principal Ty Thompson was added to the list in March.

Runcie told the commission last month that the investigation should be concluded in late September or early October.

The administrators were transferred to new jobs this summer. Morford was serving as an assistant principal at Coconut Creek High.

But the new assignment didn’t make things easier for him, Maxwell said.

“Post-trauma stress is real and is a horrendous thing he’s been trying to deal with since the day of the shooting,” she said.

In addition to being an assistant principal, Morford received attention last summer when he opened a bar in Pompano Beach called the Axe Throwing Society. It features 14 ax-throwing “lanes,” which resemble fenced-in batting cages, where customers can hurl lightweight axes at wooden targets.