News & Politics

Broward County Officials Finally Admit Parkland Shooter Was Assigned to PROMISE Program

Broward County School Board Superintendent Robert Runcie (Amy Beth Bennett /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Broward school district officials admitted on Sunday that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was assigned to the controversial PROMISE program, even though both the superintendent and the Broward Sheriff’s Office denied repeatedly that Cruz had a connection to the Obama-era disciplinary program. The program came under scrutiny after the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students were killed an 17 injured. The parents of one of the injured survivors has filed a lawsuit arguing that the program’s lax attitude toward discipline led to the school massacre.

Although Broward County officials were loathe to admit it, Cruz was referred to the program for “a three-day stint after committing vandalism at Westglades Middle School in 2013,” two sources with knowledge of Cruz’s discipline records told WLRN.

When asked for a response, a spokeswoman for Superintendent Robert Runcie stated on Friday that district administrators were aggressively analyzing Cruz’s records. Then Tracy Clark said on Sunday afternoon the district had “confirmed” Cruz’s referral to PROMISE after he vandalized a bathroom at the middle school on Nov. 25, 2013.

However, it’s unclear if Cruz ever attended the program.

Clark said he appeared at Pine Ridge Education Center in Fort Lauderdale — an alternative school facility where PROMISE is housed — for an intake interview the day after the vandalism incident.

But, she said, “It does not appear that Cruz completed the recommended three-day assignment/placement.” She said she did not want to “speculate” as to why.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) reacted to the news on Twitter:

Back in March, a Broward County Public Schools spokeswoman said that “the District has no record of Nikolas Cruz committing a PROMISE-eligible infraction or being assigned the PROMISE while in high school.”

And Runcie said during an interview in his office last month: “Nikolas Cruz, the shooter that was involved in this horrific accident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, had no connection to the PROMISE program.”

The Broward County school system adopted the lenient discipline policy in 2013, making it much more difficult for administrators to suspend or expel troubled, often violent students, or for school resource officers to arrest them for misdemeanors. A parallel “civil citation” program works to protect students from arrest for off-campus criminality.

Veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told RealClearInvestigation’s Paul Sperry: “He had a clean record, so alarm bells didn’t go off when they looked him up in the system. He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement.”

PROMISE was enacted in 50 school districts nationwide with the aim to slow the “school-to-prison pipeline,” Sperry reported. But as a result, problem students have been able to commit crimes without any legal consequence.

Broward school Superintendent Robert W. Runcie – a Chicagoan and Harvard graduate with close ties to President Obama and his Education Department – signed an agreement with the county sheriff and other local jurisdictions to trade cops for counseling. Students charged with various misdemeanors, including assault, would now be disciplined through participation in “healing circles,” obstacle courses and other “self-esteem building” exercises.

As a result, the school district saw a dramatic decline in the number of students who are arrested at school.

According to the Boston Globe, Broward recorded 1,056 school-based arrests in 2011-12. But “by 2015-16, that number had fallen 63 percent to just 392 school-based arrests.” Note that the result measured arrests — not criminal behavior. The number of violent episodes in our nation’s schools actually skyrocketed as result of the flawed discipline system.  Nevertheless, liberals touted those disturbing numbers as a sign of success. “The Obama administration held up Broward’s transformed discipline system as a national model, inviting Runcie to speak about the district’s approach in 2015,” the Globe reported.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office has also previously denied that Cruz attended PROMISE: “The school board reports that there was no PROMISE program participation,” BSO representative Jack Dale said during a recent meeting of the state commission investigating the shooting.

According to WJCT, “Runcie and school board members remain steadfastly committed to PROMISE.”

The administrators have worked to combat what they argue is a politically motivated attack based on “misinformation” and “fake news.”

In his defense of the program, Runcie has touted its high success rate in preventing recidivism: Nearly 9 out of 10 kids who go to PROMISE don’t commit another offense at school that would send them back there.

He has maintained there’s no link between PROMISE and the shooting, calling it “reprehensible” that people have tried to use the tragedy to target the program.

Broward Counry Sheriff Scott Israel has also touted the “success” of PROMISE, saying he measures the success of the program “by the number of kids we keep out of jail, not the number we put in jail.”

Cruz’s high school discipline records, obtained by WLRN, show he got in trouble for fighting and verbal assault while at Stoneman Douglas — but those infractions didn’t meet the eligibility requirements for PROMISE. In both cases, he was suspended.

Runcie has called for an “independent review” of the district’s decisions regarding Cruz.

“Because there’s been so much speculation about what [Cruz] may or may not have done, or what the district should have or should not have done, we’ve asked for an independent review by experts in the field to review his entire academic record and his experience within Broward County,” Runcie said.

He added: “That report will be available to the public in June.”

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham connected the dots between the PROMISE program and the Parkland shooting back in March: