After the Parkland, Fla. school shooting that left 17 dead, Broward County Sheriff, Scott Israel, whose department responded to the crisis, was interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper. Tapper wanted to discuss “the numerous missed red flags about the shooter.”
Tapper said, “In this case, you have listed 23 incidents before the shooting involving the shooter, and still nothing was done…to make sure the school was protected.”
Tapper continued after an exchange with the sheriff, “A lot of people in the community have noted that Broward County School Board entered into an agreement when you were sheriff in 2013 to pursue ‘least punitive means of discipline’ against students. This new policy encourages warnings, consultations with parents and programs on conflict resolution, instead of arresting students for crimes.”
Finally, Tapper asked, “Did the new policies allow the shooter to get away with infractions he otherwise would have been arrested for?”
Sheriff Israel replied, “What you’re referring to is the PROMISE program. It’s giving the school…the ability under circumstances not to call the police, not to get the police involved on misdemeanor offenses and take care of it within the school. It’s an excellent program.”
PROMISE is an acronym for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, and Support & Education. Broward County Public School’s website advertises the PROMISE program along with this statement: Learn what the BCPS is doing to eliminate The School-to Prison Pipeline.
The “school-to-prison pipeline” is a term that stresses the correlation between school suspensions, dropout rates, and incarceration in an effort to reduce racial disparities in school discipline.
But too often the goal of reducing disparities leads to policies designed to simply manipulate the data. In November 2017 Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Max Eden articulated his concern about this manipulation in an article called: On School Discipline, Fix the Problem, Not the Statistics.
After the Parkland school shooting and following Sheriff Israel’s CNN interview Eden wrote, Florida’s Broward County, home of Stoneman Douglas High “was among the leaders in this nationwide policy shift. According to Washington Post reporting, Broward County schools once recorded more in-school arrests than any other Florida district. But in 2013, the school board and the sheriff’s office agreed on a new policy to discontinue police referrals for a dozen infractions ranging from drug use to assault. The number of school-based arrest plummeted by 63 percent from 2012 to 2016.”
Beyond gun control, Eden wrote, “The unintended consequences of pressuring schools to produce ever-lower discipline statistics deserve much more examination.”
But there’s one more thing that also deserves examination.
After Sheriff Israel told CNN’s Tapper that the PROMISE program was excellent, Sheriff Israel reiterated, “What this program does is not put a person 14, 15, 16 years old into the criminal justice system.”
Then Tapper asked: “What if they should be in the criminal justice system?”
But that question is no longer applicable to adolescents attending American public schools.
Because former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that discipline disparity “is not caused by differences in children” but rather by teachers who are complicit in creating a “school-to-prison pipeline,” and according to the former Secretary of Education it’s “adult behavior” (along with the system) that needs to change.
So now we’re left with one question: Did Broward County’s efforts to change help the Parkland shooter stay under law enforcement’s radar?
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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