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Education

Broward School Board Agrees To Give Police Live Access To Surveillance Cameras During Emergencies

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Carl Juste
/
Miami Herald
Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie gives testimony in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission in November at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. The commission has criticized the district for moving too slowly.

The Broward County school board  approved on Tuesday a new agreement that gives the sheriff's office access to school security cameras during emergencies.

It's a move that members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission have argued is long overdue. Delays and confusion over the camera system at Stoneman Douglas slowed down the police response to last year's deadly shooting there.

Superintendent Robert Runcie at first resisted giving Broward Sheriff's Office deputies unfettered, real-time access to security cameras, because he argued it could violate students' right to privacy under federal law. The agreement appears to be a compromise, letting police watch live surveillance footage if there's a threat to the health or safety of students or staff.

At one point during the board discussion, members considered whether they should postpone approving the deal because it was negotiated under former Sheriff Scott Israel. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis made suspending Israel for the agency's mistakes in handling the shooting one of his first actions after taking office last week. DeSantis replaced the elected Democrat with a new sheriff, Gregory Tony.

Board member Laurie Rich Levinson pushed back against a proposal to consider the agreement at the end of the month instead, as did some of her colleagues.

"We are accused of not being urgent enough," she said. "I can't in good conscience delay this two more weeks. I think this should have happened already. I can't rationalize any more time without the sheriff's office having access."

BSO spokesperson Veda Coleman-Wright said Tony alerted Runcie he was okay with moving forward.

"Sheriff Tony will have some amendments," Coleman-Wright added.

At the same meeting, the first of 2019, a few speakers asked board members to cancel Runcie's contract. One of the speakers started a petition on change.org calling for Runcie's removal that has garnered more than 7,400 signatures.

The pressure comes as DeSantis has said he would consider firing Runcie if he could. But the governor's power to suspend public officials only extends to elected ones. Runcie was appointed by the school board.

John Daly, the community member who started the petition, said if school board members don't let Runcie go, the superintendent's critics will push for their removal.

"We know that Runcie is appointed by the school board. He's not an elected official. Therefore our only recourse is to go after board members that were elected prior to 2018," Daly told reporters on Tuesday after he addressed the board. "We're not going to pick and choose. We're just going to get ourselves a whole new board, if that need be the case."

He excluded Lori Alhadeff, who was elected in August after her daughter Alyssa was killed at Stoneman Douglas. Four incumbents were re-elected at that time, despite efforts to oust them.

Runcie's salary is $335,000 a year, plus benefits, and his contract is in effect through June 2023.

Runcie began the meeting by saying the district needs stability in leadership.

"The trajectory of progress is strong, and we’re moving in the right direction," he said. "The school board, my leadership team and I are 100 percent committed to keeping the momentum going."