Updated at 6:18 p.m. Wednesday August 14.
Students across Broward County went back to school Wednesday morning. But, according to the state commission making recommendations about changes to school security, many are trying to “check a box,” for the first day back.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission started it’s bi-monthly, two-day meeting Wednesday morning at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri chairs the commission, which was created by the Florida Legislature after the February 2018 Parkland school shooting. He updated members at the start of the meeting that on the first day of school in Broward County there are schools in the double digits that are still not in compliance with state law that requires a police officer or armed guard on every public school campus.
“We have a big question mark and uncertainty moving forward whether there is a sustained safe school officer presence on 29 school campuses in Broward County. In some of those, we only have a commitment for a couple of days. School starts today in Broward County,” Gualtieri said.
That number came from the Broward County school district Wednesday morning, according to Gualtieri. It's about a third of all charter schools in the county - the total number is 89 charter schools.
Gualtieri said every school campus has a safe schools officer to start the new school year, but it’s charter schools that do not have a longer-term plan for security coverage.
“We only have a commitment from Sheriff [Gregory] Tony — because these charters are not acting — that he’s only going to cover them until Friday,” Gualtieri said. “And if they don't act by Friday and sign a contract with him that he's pulling out.”
Tony decided later in the day on Wednesday that he will not leave any schools uncovered next week, but he's not sure how long he can continue to allow what he calls a burden on law enforcement.
"How could I stand by and know that these schools are vacant and not do something for the interim?" Tony said.
The MSD Public Safety commissioners are discussing what issues in their recommendations have been resolved since they started meeting 16 months ago — and which recommendations still have not been implemented. They are making arrangements for what they would like to recommend moving forward — as the commission does not sunset until 2023.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a commissioner, told the commission he’d like to see noncompliant schools publicly called out. He also proposed an audit team be created to compile reports at schools, checking for an armed officer, and teacher training.
"Before our next report ... I would like to see an audit team put together," Judd said, "on the ground, at the schools, checking the box."
The state's Department of Education's Office of Safe Schools is already looking to fill 10 positions to fulfill a similar need, planning to check up on schools unannounced.
Gualtieri emphasized that schools haven't been left unsecured for this week, but it's moving forward that he's most concerned about.
“We just don’t know,” Gualtieri said. “They have not made arrangements.”
For charter schools that continue to not meet state security requirements, Gualtieri said there need to be sanctions.
"They need to pull the charters," Gualtieri said of school districts.
Broward Sheriff Tony came to the commission to participate in a press conference about a different topic, newly proposed congressional threat assessment legislation. When he was asked about the charter schools without long-term plans for a law enforcement officer or armed guard on campus, he said he was aware of 12 schools last Friday that had no plans for the first day of school, but Wednesday was the first time he was made aware of 29 schools without long-term plans.
"Here we are at the very late hour before school starts, where I'm on the phone on the weekend with my command staff starting to communicate with chiefs of police and school board officials, trying to tap into charter schools," Tony said. "I put things in place to cover every single school today...I'm dissapointed...that I'm walking into a room and two minutes in here, I'm hearing that there's 29 charter schools."
Tony said he will try to take immediate action.
"The next thing I'm going to do is go to my command staff and figure out what can we do to ensure that number is zero," he said.
The commission received a more detailed update late Wednesday about compliance issues from DAmien Kelly, the state Department of Education's director of the Office of Safe Schools.
Kelly said he received information from the 29 schools that conflicts with the district and the Broward Sheriff's Office.
"What we're hearing is completely contrary to the list that we were given..." Kelly said. "But according to what we have figured out today, we've not received all of the documentation for them - we have requested it - but if we take them at their word, all 29 say that they do have coverage in place."
To clear up the confusion, the commission requested a form of documentation, or proof, from each of the 29 schools that the district does not have plans for.
Commissioners will also question Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie first thing Thursday morning on the second day of the meeting in Sunrise.
"Be ready to defend yourself, " Sheriff Grady Judd said to the schools in question. "And show us a contract, and show us a picture with your school resource officer, your school resource deputy or your guardian standing on the campus and be ready. You've had 18 months. You say you do... the sheriff says you don't."