Teachers, Students Protest At Stoneman Douglas After Employees Reassigned

Nov 27, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teachers and students separately protested the abrupt transfer of three administrators and a security guard as part of an ongoing investigation into mistakes leading up and following the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 people dead on campus.

About 60 teachers stood in a line in front of the Parkland high school early Tuesday morning, some holding signs that read: "Who is this helping?" A few hours later, a few hundred students walked out of class and gathered in a park down the street, a few chanting, "Bring them back!"

The protests come the day after Broward County Public Schools leaders announced they were transferring three assistant principals and a security specialist to other unspecified administrative roles. The district would not provide specific reasons for their removal. But some details about their actions leading up to, during and after the shooting have come out as part of a state investigation into what went wrong.

According to a detailed report released earlier this month from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Assistant Principal Jeff Morford and other staff members had a conversation last year predicting that confessed killer Nikolas Cruz might become a school shooter. They joked he would target Morford first.

The report also showed that on the day of the shooting, Assistant Principal Winfred Porter, Jr., initially told police officers they were watching live surveillance footage that showed Cruz still inside the building. It was actually delayed by 26 minutes. The misinformation kept first responders from getting to 10 victims who had been shot on the third floor of the building more quickly. Porter later informed them of the delay.

The security specialist, Kelvin Greenleaf, was outside the building where the shooting was taking place and heard gunfire but retreated to another building, according to the report. It did not include any information about the other assistant principal who was moved, Denise Reed.

A spokeswoman wrote in an email that the school district "supports our students’ and employees’ rights to express their views during peaceful and lawful protests."

According to the spokeswoman, Cathleen Brennan, there was a second, smaller student walkout involving a few dozen kids after lunch.

"The school’s administration worked with local law enforcement to provide additional security for the students to ensure their safety during the walkouts," Brennan said in the email. "Students choosing to return to school after the walkouts were allowed to do so."

Also on Tuesday, about 30 students staged a sit-in in the school's Student Services Office.

"All of today’s events took place without incident," she said. "No disciplinary measures are planned by the school."

Read More: Four Stoneman Douglas High School Employees Transferred After Parkland Shooting Missteps

During the protests, teachers and students defended the four staff members who have been disciplined. Some argued they were being arbitrarily blamed for mistakes of more prominent district and school leaders.

"Instead of facing the actual issues that the county needs to address, they are trying to move people around just to … make it seem like they've done something," said senior Spencer Blum, 17, who left school carrying a spiral notebook with the words "Bring them back!" written in black marker.

"If they're looking for heads to roll, I think Runcie has to go," Blum said. He said Runcie has broken promises to Stoneman Douglas students, citing the superintendent's reversal on a plan to install metal detectors at the school.

Read more: FBI Will Upgrade Tipline, Add Staff After Missing Warnings About Parkland Shooter

Brooke Bowsman, 18, graduated from Stoneman Douglas last spring and now attends Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. She returned to campus on Tuesday to protest the district's decisions and support students.

She said the school's principal should be held accountable for mistakes made.

"Why is Ty Thompson still here?" she said. "He's the principal. He's the one in charge of the entire school but yet he is not being reassigned. So that doesn't make sense to me."

As the stream of students crossed the street in front of the school, a man standing on the other side spoke into a megaphone, calling the walkout was a "disgrace." He listed the names of each of the victims of the shooting, saying the students should "go back inside" for them.

"Hold the staff accountable for their failures, which led up to 17 deaths," the man, Gurmeet Matharu, said into the speaker. Matharu is the father of Stoneman Douglas freshman and a friend of Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting.

Students were upset and yelled back at him angrily.

"Shut up!" one screamed. "You don't know a single thing about anybody. Shut up!"

During the morning protest, Library Media Specialist Diana Haneski said the news of the four transfers was an unsettling surprise to the staff.

"To take away four leaders who have been here, helping us through this together, how does that help us now?" she said.

Haneski worries the changes could endanger the school's focus on caring for students' mental health, which she said was being spearheaded by Reed, one of the assistant principals who was moved.

MSD therapy dog River, a Berna-Doodle, or Bernese Mountain Dog and Poodle, stood with the teachers outside during the protest. Walked by Haneski, River spends most of her day with students in the media center at Stoneman Douglas.
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN

"She went through all this with us. And she's been a leader and strong and helping us get well," Haneski said. "We suffered trauma, and we need help. and we've been getting mindfulness and all sorts of support for meditation and wellness … and Denise Reed has helped that happen for us. And now she is not here."

American History Teacher Greg Pittman spoke out on behalf of the group of teachers in protest. He said if the staff members had acted inappropriately, they should have been removed before now.

"It's important that the school stay together and to have the continuity that we've been having," Pittman said. "If these people were such a problem, why didn't they take them out prior to the beginning to the school year?"

Pittman said keeping the staff unified is important not only in terms of healing the community but also because it can make them more effective in the event of another emergency.

"If we went through that situation again, I would prefer those people to be here, because they know what mistakes were made. They know where things were wrong," he said. "And they, better than anyone, know what to correct and what needs to be done going forward. It just doesn't make a lot of sense."

Matharu, the man who was counter-protesting the student walkout, said the district's action against the staff members was overdue.

Pollack, who has been an outspoken critic of Runcie and other officials who responded to the shooting, said the staff members who were moved and others should be held responsible for missteps that cost lives. For example, the school gate shouldn't have been open, allowing Cruz to freely walk on campus. Also, several people failed to call a code red lockdown, indicating there was an active shooter on campus.

"They failed protocol after protocol," Pollack said. "I'm never going to see my kid again, and people need to be held accountable for their failures."

This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. with additional information about the student protests and a response from Broward County Public Schools.