TREASURE COAST - As Florida begins a new school year, a statewide grand jury says that school officials, police, and the Department of Education have failed to comply with safety laws enacted after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Seventeen students and staff members were killed at Stoneman Douglas H.S. on Feb. 14, 2018 when 19 year old expelled student Nikolas Cruz opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle.
The grand jury, impaneled by the Florida Supreme Court at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, has been meeting in Broward County.
The report was released by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and presented to Judge Martin Fein. Prosecutor Nicholas Cox has been advising the grand jury.
The report says numerous unspecified school districts have failed to implement both the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act, SB 7026 (2018), and the Implementation of Legislative Recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, SB 7030 (2019).
“As of the writing of this Interim Report, it has been 545 days since the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; it has been 497 days since SB 7026 was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott; it has been 72 days since SB 7030 was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis; and it is now approximately 24 days until the start of the 2019-20 school year,” the grand jury wrote on July 19. “We find that law enforcement and school district officials have had sufficient time to bring their districts into compliance with these laws, and we fully expect that these officials will use the remaining days before the first day of the 2019-20 school year to do whatever it takes to bring these districts into full compliance.”
The report did not specify either the failing schools or the deficiencies.
The grand jury specifically criticized the interactions between the parties involved.
“We have seen and heard troubling evidence of conflicts between school district officials and law enforcement agencies regarding who is ultimately responsible for executing and enforcing SB 7026 and SB 7030. It appears that at least some of these officials have failed - or refused - to accept their responsibility for school safety. Protecting and securing our schools and every life within them is everyone's responsibility and it is of utmost importance. The goals of securing our schools and educating our children are not in conflict. They require cooperation between law enforcement and school district officials. The responsibility of securing our schools is not a matter to be passed from agency to agency, it is not a budget item to be haggled over, and it is not an agenda issue to be whittled down by negotiation into minimum legally-sufficient actions. Now is the time for everyone tasked with implementing and enforcing these laws to take action.”
The grand jury said “We have heard days of testimony from Department of Education, school district and law enforcement officials regarding administrative hurdles, increased costs to their districts, and shortages of the qualified employees necessary to bring these districts into compliance with these important safety measures. Without discussing the specifics of their explanations, suffice it to say we find this testimony wholly unpersuasive.”
This interim report is just the first reaction of the grand jury, which concluded by stating “This statewide Grand Jury will continue to investigate, monitor and exercise our authority to ensure full compliance with SB 7026 and SB 7030, as requested by the Governor and ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, throughout our term.”