Governor Ron DeSantis takes the recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) Public Safety Commission seriously, but most of them require the legislature to take action. The commission has been investigating the Parkland shooting since April of last year and submitted their findings in a January report. DeSantis isn’t waiting for legislature to see changes made and pushed some of the commission’s recommendations forward Wednesday.
For one, DeSantis is requiring school districts to provide extensive information on any leniency programs they may be implementing including the PROMISE program. This will help the Department of Education and Department of Juvenile Justice review these program and determine their effectiveness. The department will submit their report on this issue to the Governor and legislature in time for the next school year.
The PROMISE program was designed to lower the rate at which students were being arrested and kicked out of school by requiring them to undergo counseling for their infractions instead. The program was the defining achievement of Superintendent Robert Runcie’s career. When Runcie became the superintendent of Broward, the seventh largest school district in the country, it had the highest number of student arrests, expulsions and suspensions in the state of Florida. The PROMISE program lowered these statistics but was criticized after the school district was accused of not taking the Parkland shooter’s threats seriously. The program was also supported by former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel who was suspended for his performance leading up to the Parkland shooting. After a series of heated, closed door meetings, many in Broward county want to see Runcie outed too, but the Governor claims he doesn’t have the authority to suspend appointed Superintendents. “When you don’t have accountability in the schools, you are in effect teaching people that there’s not be going to be accountability outside the schools,” DeSantis said of the PROMISE program. While his order that the program be reviewed will not end the program, it may get the ball rolling in that direction.
Secondly, DeSantis called for the Commissioner of Education to extend the period in which a sheriff can apply for funds allocated to the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. Coach Feis responded to the scene of the Parkland shooting as a school safety monitor and was shot down by the killer. The program would allow certain school staff members – such as safety monitors, janitors and principals – to carry a gun on campus
in participating school districts. Teachers are currently barred from participating in the program. These staff members would be required to undergo active shooter training by the county sheriff’s office and receive approval by their school supervisors and sheriff’s office before becoming a guardian. Most of the money put aside to fund the implementation of this program is unused and now, sheriffs have six more weeks to apply for it. However, many sheriffs in Florida avoid using the program because their insurance companies tell them that it is a liability. This led the MSD Public Safety Commission to require sheriffs to implement the program for any school district who votes to have it implemented.
Thirdly, DeSantis called for the Department of Education to submit best practices for school hardening and harm mitigation to his office and to the legislature by July 1st. He also called on the Commissioner of Education to inform schools on how to comply with current laws regarding school resources officers (SROs) and guardians. Many counties in Florida struggle to meet these requirements because of the sheer number of schools they protect. Pinellas County Sheriff and Chairman of the MSD Public Safety Commission, Bob Gualtieri has stated that he does not have enough staff to put SROs in all 76 elementary schools in his county. This is part of the reason why he encouraged the commission to recommend that teachers be allowed to become guardians. Guardians would help sheriffs in densely populated counties put armed security in the schools without pulling from their already stretched staff.
Finally, DeSantis called for the Department of Education to create a system to access, collect and analyze data on potentially dangerous students. As is often the case with mass killers, the Parkland shooter’s violent fantasies were broadcasted online. In a YouTube comment, he specifically threatened to shoot up a school, but his threats were not taken seriously by law enforcement. DeSantis will also be making changes to how law enforcement handles threat assessments. “We actually do it at FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) in terms of threats against me and the First Lady. They don’t just wait till something happens. They’re proactive,” DeSantis said. “If they’re being proactive to protect me, why aren’t we being proactive to protect everybody else?”
Later in the evening Wednesday, DeSantis called for the Grand Jury to investigate the conduct of the Broward school district. He did not discuss suspending school board members or Runice, saying that his authority to do so is unclear to him.
The actions of DeSantis in regards to school safety may put pressure on the legislature to also take action by putting high stakes attention on any gun legislation which hits the floor of the house. The legislative session begins in March.