World & Nation

Florida school failed Parkland shooter, report says

FILE - In this April 27, 2018 file photo, Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, looks up whi
Florida school officials released a long-awaited report on Parkland, Fla., shooter Nikolas Cruz, here in April court appearance.
(Taimy Alvarez / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via Associated Press)
Sun-Sentinel

The Broward school district mishandled the case of student Nikolas Cruz when he asked for special help, long before he killed 17 staff and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to a long-awaited report released Friday.

For the first time, the report revealed that Cruz had asked to return to the district’s special education program, which would have provided him more support than he received as a general student, the report says.

The report, by the Collaborative Educational Network of Tallahassee, found that the school district largely followed the policies and laws in place when educating Cruz, but failed on two occasions.

Exactly how is not clear. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled Friday that the 46-page report could be released to the public, but much of the content was blacked out, apparently including any details that would explain the district’s mistakes. The Broward school district recommended the report be altered to comply with the shooter’s educational and medical privacy rights.

Of the report’s 1,707 lines, 1,078 of them — or about 64% — are concealed.

After rejecting special education, Cruz quickly failed. Three days after he was forced by the district to withdraw from the Parkland school, he purchased an AR-15. A year after his ejection, he returned and gunned down 14 students and three adults.

Cruz’s attorneys argued unsuccessfully in court that the report would hinder his right to a fair trial. Scherer agreed with attorneys for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and other media outlets, who argued the taxpayer-funded report should not be hidden from view.

In a written statement, Broward Schools Supt. Robert Runcie said he looked forward to releasing the full report “as soon as it is legally appropriate.” He said the review shows that the district’s “systems are appropriate” and that the district worked consistently “to provide an education and ongoing, changing behavioral care for Cruz throughout his time in the Broward school system.”

The report, however, suggests the district did not follow laws or policies in place when school employees tried to transfer Cruz, then a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, to a special education campus.

Cruz, then 18, refused and removed himself from the special education program.

Runcie has said that when Cruz made that decision, the district was unable to help him with special education services. But the consultant’s report reveals for the first time that Cruz later “requested reinstatement” of special education services, and the district mishandled his request.

The revelation bolsters criticism from some special education experts, who said the district should have done more for Cruz, who had emotional and behavioral problems.

Cruz’s attorneys said the $60,000 report is a “whitewash” commissioned by the school district to clear it of responsibility for how it handled Cruz’s complex psychological problems.

“I think that the report is an attempt by the school board to absolve itself of any liability or responsibility for all the missed opportunities that they had in this matter,” said Gordon Weekes, the chief assistant public defender.

The consultant, however, found that the district largely handled Cruz properly, over 16 years of education.

“With isolated exceptions, the district adhered to procedural and substantive requirements,” the report says.

Without directly criticizing the school district, the consultant recommended the district reconsider how to handle cases like Cruz’s, where a “high-needs” special education student decides against participating in special education and then reverses the decision.

The report suggests that when Cruz was a general education student, he wasn’t offered access to counseling and mental health services that are available to all students.

McMahon and Wallman write for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.


UPDATES:

7:05 p.m.: This article was updated to say a long-awaited report found Broward County Public Schools mishandled the case of Nikolas Cruz.

This article was originally published at 4:50 p.m.