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The Sunshine Economy

The Sunshine Economy: Accountability, Safety Policies And School Security With Broward Schools Boss

Tom Hudson
WLRN Public Media
Superintendent Robert Runcie pledges to make Broward schools "the safest in the nation."

A year after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Robert Runcie says he wants to make Broward County Public Schools the safest in the nation.

The superintendent and the school district could face new scrutiny for their actions before and after the shooting. Governor Ron DeSantis has asked for a state grand jury to investigate school security. If approved by the Florida Supreme Court, it would join other investigations -- including one by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

In a statement, Runcie said he agrees with the statewide focus and supports an investigation "to improve safety and security in our own district and school districts statewide."

WLRN spoke with the superintendent about accountability, new school board proposals on safety mesures and school security. You can listen/read some highlights of the conversation below.

About school security

Who is responsible for school security?

Runcie: Everyone. We're all responsible for school security and that includes the students at the school. Ultimately the principal is the leader of the school. They take full accountability for that. 

Do you think principals in Broward County acknowledge that they are the ones responsible for security on campus?

Yes, principals have heard it loud and clear from me and senior staff. We've had several all principal and assistant principal meetings where we've made it clear. We've had meetings where we've played the video of the actual shooting to impress upon them how serious this is.

Are schools safer today than before the MSD shooting?

When you look at where we are in Broward County and you compare that to where we were prior to February 14, 2018, we are a much safer district. Safety and security is an ongoing, continuous improvement process for us. It's our highest priority. We will never be 100 percent secure. I can't guarantee that, but what I can tell you is that we are doing our very best to make our schools as safe as possible. 

What more needs to be done in order to fulfill the pledge to make this school district the safest in America?

We need to change our practices. We just need to continue to work to change the culture.We've got to constantly make sure that we remain vigilant and holding people accountable that safety and security is an area that absolutely cannot be compromised for a single day, or a single minute. There's also funding. In August, the school board authorized $31 million for additional investments above and beyond anything we would ever receive from the state. We don't have unlimited resources, but we need to be smarter with the resources we have, and leverage every dollar that we can to invest those in high priority things.

Credit Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool
Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie at the podium during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Nov 15, 2018.


How is the district prepared for action that the governor might take against members of the school board related to their response to the shooting?

I can't spend time speculating about what may or may not happen. What I can tell you is that we need to spend our time getting critical work done to make our districts safer.

What personnel remains under investigation for their actions regarding MSD?

There are currently four individuals who have been formerly noticed. We have removed them from the school. (Editor's note: The four are three MSD assistant principals and one security specialist.) I have made it clear that as that investigation proceeds and takes the results from the MSD Commission, we will expand it as necessary to include other individuals. We are following our process here and doing things as quickly as we can.

Can you give us an update on the timeline?

I've asked investigators to make sure that we get this work done by the end of the school year

Is the due process for those under investigation dictated in collective bargaining agreements?

It's not just collective bargaining but the school board has a very clear policy. 

Do you think the policy has impeded the investigation or taking action?

No, I don't. I want to make sure that when we take action it's not just purely an emotional reaction. These are serious decisions that we make that have enormous consequences. 

Do you see that there is any responsibility from MSD Principal Ty Thompson? Are you looking into doing an investigation into him?

Yes, I believe the leader of the school certainly bears some responsibility. We're working through our investigation and we will expand work as we need to in coming months. If we need to expand the individuals who are being investigated, we will do so.

Critics and parents of students who were killed have also called on you for your resignation. Have you ever considered that?

I do hear the anger. I hear some of those calls, but I also hear from the rest of the county and people want us to continue to do the job that we're doing. They see the safety improvements in their schools. They also want to make sure that their kid gets a great education, and that they have an opportunity for a future and a shot at the American dream.

Safety Policies

The school board is set to vote Feb. 20 on a formal code red policy. Is there a policy it is replacing?

No, there isn't. We didn't have a formal policy. We essentially had district guidelines and protocols that folks were following and had been following for many many years.

If we need to expand the individuals who are being investigated, we will do so. - Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie

In January, you said all Broward classrooms would have hard corners by the end of February. Will they?

That is our goal. We have asked law enforcement agencies to help us to identify these hard corners, and there has been some reluctance to do it. Some of them don't want to take that on because they feel that might create some liability for them. 

The school board will vote on a safer spaces policy Feb. 20. What constitutes a hard corner under that policy?

We don't call it a safe space because there's no such thing as an absolute safe space. There are safer spaces to be in a classroom given the circumstances around the threat. A safer space is a space in the classroom that would provide the greatest amount of security given the threat that has been posed. There is a risk of being overly prescriptive in our solutions based on what the last shooter did. If we do that, we're going to miss the boat on creating a more comprehensive security apparatus for Broward County Public Schools.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.
Jessica Bakeman is an investigative reporter and editor focusing on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.