Superintendent Supporters, Safety Critics Rally At Broward Schools Town Hall
More than 1,000 people from across Broward County showed up at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs Monday night for a district-wide town hall about school security.
Inside the auditorium, people lined up by the dozens to ask questions, and the cafeteria had to be used as an overflow room once the auditorium became standing-room only.
It was all so people could ask Superintendent Robert Runcie about how he has handled implementing new security measures since last year's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Some came to voice concerns about issues like the possibility of arming teachers:
"Do you, Broward County Schools, promise that you will not allow the arming of teachers? I don't want to be armed. I don't want my daughter's teacher to be armed," Tracy Merlin, a Broward Schools elementary teacher, said. She's also a mother of a 7-year-old and a volunteer for the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action.
A proposed State Senate Bill (SB 7030) would, if passed during the upcoming legislative session, expand the Guardian program to allow for trained staff at schools to carry firearms.
"It's clear, I'm clear, this administration is clear that we do not support arming teachers and instructional staff," Runcie said. "If there's some state law that requires us to do something, we have to obey state law. But this board, this administration is in line with where our teachers are."
Most of the audience was made up of Runcie supporters, thanking and cheering for the superintendent.
Other people also asked about security funding, active shooter training, investigations, and metal detectors, among others.
The town hall was also a chance for an independent security firm that has been advising the district to answer questions about its assessment of security in Broward County Public Schools.
"The most important finding … was that the district lacked adequate oversight and structure for the massive school safety efforts that were in place," said Michael Dorn, Executive Director of the company, Safe Havens International.
"In other words, there wasn't enough structure, there weren't enough people to oversee an extremely large safety and security network in the district,” he said.
In the first phase of its assessment in August of 2018, Safe Havens recommended that Broward school officials not install metal detectors as a security measure for students.
"When are you going to have metal detectors?" One father shouted at the school board.
"To be clear, you have to pat people down….you have to use security x-ray. Bags checks are not reliable," Dorn said. To operate metal detector checkpoints properly, it costs an average of $1 million dollars per high school, according to Dorn.
Phase II of the company's report, started last fall, showed vulnerabilities in the day-to-day operations at schools across the county.
Runcie announced that a redacted version of those recommendations will be made public in the coming weeks.
Recently, Governor Ron DeSantis called for the creation of a statewide grand jury to investigate how the Broward school district - and all school districts in Florida - have been spending money allotted to increasing school security. The state Supreme Court approved the grand jury before the town hall began on Monday.
"We welcome the fact that we're actually going to have a grand jury that's going to look at what we actually do," Runcie said. "We try to get the facts out, but if you don't want to listen I can't make folks listen, so I welcome an independent review..."
He tried to assure angry parents that the school district is making sweeping and effective security changes. Last week, members of the Broward School Board passed a formal Code Red policy, as well as a plan to implement hard corners. Those are safe spaces where students can hide during an active shooter situation, and avoid being seen from a window or door.
"This is clearly the most challenging moment in my career, in my lifetime," Runcie said. "And I know no matter what we keep doing, I will keep hearing it's not enough."