Remeber the Broward County Promise program? That’s the name of the diversion program for kids with behavioral problems which was intended to prevent kids from becoming involved with the local police. Initially, Broward officials claimed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was never involved in the Promise program but earlier this month they finally admitted that wasn’t true. Over the weekend, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper had an in-depth report on the Promise program which describes it as a “culture of leniency” which lets students like Nikolas Cruz get an almost endless number of second chances:
The culture of leniency allows children to engage in an endless loop of violations and second chances, creating a system where kids who commit the same offense for the 10th time may be treated like it’s the first, according to records and interviews with people familiar with the process.
Cruz was suspended at least 67 days over less than a year and a half at Westglades Middle School, and his problems continued at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, until he finally was forced to leave.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel obtained Cruz’s discipline records, reviewed discipline policies and found:
- Students can be considered first-time offenders even if they commit the same offenses year after year.
- The district’s claim of reforming bad behavior is exaggerated.
- Lenient discipline has an added PR benefit for the district: lower suspensions, expulsions and arrests along with rising graduation rates.
And it’s not just Cruz who benefited from this program. The district claims it has a 90% success rate at preventing students from “re-offending.” Most people hearing that would probably assume this means someone who passes through the program has a 90% chance of becoming a well-adjusted student who is not involved in any subsequent trouble. But what the Sun-Sentinel found is that’s not what the program itself means when it cites that 90% statistic:
A student can commit a subsequent infraction without being considered a repeat offender, as long as it’s not the exact same violation, in the exact same year.
The following year, they start with a clean slate.
“It’s extremely problematic,” said Tim Sternberg, a former assistant principal at Pine Ridge Educational Center who administered the Promise program. “You can develop a psyche that it is OK to commit crime because you can refresh the clock every year.”
Sternberg says he doesn’t have confidence in the district’s data. “They aren’t tracking kids over time.”
School Superintendent Robert Runcie claims he will review how “re-offending” is viewed under the program. Meanwhile, the district has been pointing to this data as proof the program is working to reform student behavior. But are things really improving or are school administrators just reporting problems less often?
Former Broward Middle School teacher Mary Fitzgerald told the Sun-Sentinel, “My principal basically would tell me it was his job to market the school. He was adamant about not looking bad.” She added, “A lot of principals are afraid. You don’t report theft because reporting it makes your school look dangerous.” The school may still be dangerous, parents simply won’t know that thanks to the leniency culture.
It all works out fine for administrators until someone like Nikolas Cruz comes along who moves from troubling behavior to mass murder without ever being referred to the police by his school. Only then do you discover there’s a serious downside to giving students an endless number of second chances.