Nikolas Cruz was in Obama-backed discipline diversion program, Broward school district admits

Superintendent had insisted for months that suspect had ‘no connection’ to restorative-justice protocol

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Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, looks up while in court for a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Friday, April 27, 2018. The hearing is expected to deal with several procedural issues possibly including setting an initial trial date. Cruz is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14, 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool) ** FILE **

By Valerie Richardson

The Broward County school district has admitted that confessed shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was assigned to a hotly disputed restorative-justice program after months of insisting he had “no connection” to the discipline protocol.

Tracy Clark, spokesman for the Broward County school district, acknowledged Sunday that Nikolas Cruz was assigned to the PROMISE program after vandalizing a bathroom on Nov. 25, 2013, while he was a student at Westglades Middle School, according to WLRN-FM in Miami.

At the same time, “It does not appear that Cruz completed the recommended three-day assignment/placement,” she told WLRN.

The disclosure, which came after two other sources told WLRN that Mr. Cruz had been admitted to PROMISE, directly contradicts statements by Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has long defended the program and insisted the gunman was never part of it.

Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, one of the 17 killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, called it a “stunning revelation.”

“Conflicting discipline programs within the district have created deadly chaos for our children, teachers & staff,” Mr. Petty tweeted. “Educators from around Broward county are sharing their stories with me. It’s heartbreaking.”

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The school district is holding a forum Monday night on PROMISE — which stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports and Education — enacted to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” by reducing suspensions, expulsions and arrests.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, tweeted Monday that he was told “repeatedly” that Mr. Cruz was not part of PROMISE, while shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv said Mr. Runcie “knowingly lied.”

 

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About 1,600 to 2,000 students participate each year in PROMISE, which is aimed at offering counseling and therapy to students who have committed nonviolent infractions.

“Let me reiterate this point,” Mr. Runcie told the station in an interview last month. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter that was involved in this horrific accident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, had no connection to the PROMISE program.”

Launched in 2013, PROMISE was at the forefront of a national movement that culminated in the Obama administration’s 2014 directive on school discipline, which threatened school districts with civil-rights investigations unless they reduced racial disparities in school discipline.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering whether to rescind the directive in the face of mounting complaints about chaos at schools under pressure to lower their suspension and expulsion rates by keeping disruptive students in class.

Supporters of the directive have argued that the pressure is needed to prevent teachers and principals from discriminating in particular against black students, who are suspended at significantly higher rates than white students.

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