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Runcie At PROMISE Forum: 'Some Will Say We Lied'

Superintendent Robert Runcie opened a community forum on Monday night by saying he’s not a liar.

“There are some out there that are concerned that somehow we misled the public. Some will say we lied. I mean, I’ve heard all of it,” Runcie said during a “workshop” on a disciplinary program known as PROMISE.

Runcie has said repeatedly that the confessed gunman in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting “had no connection” to PROMISE. But his office admitted the link over the weekend after WLRN learned of it from two sources.

Read more: Stoneman Douglas Shooter Was Assigned To Controversial Broward Discipline Program, Officials Now Say

At the forum, Runcie said the district hadn’t confirmed Cruz’s assignment to PROMISE until late Friday — after WLRN’s inquiry. He said he believes in the public's right to know and values transparency.

“We have worked really hard to provide information that we can when people ask for it, based on what we know,” he said.

PROMISE allows students who commit certain misdemeanors to avoid getting involved in the criminal justice system. Instead, they get therapy, instruction in conflict resolution and anger management, and if they need it, substance abuse treatment.

Conservative politicians and pundits have cast a negative spotlight on PROMISE since the shooting, suggesting it demonstrates a broader lax attitude toward discipline in the district that could have led to Cruz’s violent rampage. Some students and parents locally have made similar arguments.

Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN News
Robert Runcie sits in the front row of the auditorium at Piper High School, listening to speakers at a community forum about the PROMISE program held on May 7, 2018 at Piper High School in Sunrise.

At the forum, held at Piper High School in Sunrise, people who helped create the program — a judge, a sheriff’s deputy, an assistant state attorney, a public defender and the head of a local civil rights group — explained how PROMISE works. They took turns asking the community to embrace it rather than push to abandon it. They spoke for two hours before allowing the public a chance to weigh in.

Most speakers were supportive. A 13-year-old said she attended PROMISE last week after having a “blow up” at school. Lusesita Gonzalez said the program helped her learn how to channel the anger she was feeling into drawing, writing and playing soccer — rather than hurting others.

“It gives kids the second chance that they never had,” said Gonzalez, a student at James S. Rickards Middle School.

Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was killed in the shooting, attended the forum. He said the district should release more information about what led to the massacre. He sits on an investigative panel created by the Legislature that’s looking into the shooting.

“The records are taking a long time to release. We’ve heard different things over time,” he said. “Those are not signs, to me, of transparency.”

Jessica Bakeman is senior editor for news at WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Previously, Bakeman served as WLRN's education reporter for four years. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.