Schooled Reporting on education

A reckoning in Parkland

Education | Panel releases report on systemic security failures in school massacre
by Laura Edghill
Posted 1/09/19, 01:35 pm

A report released last week by the investigative panel tasked with analyzing last year’s horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., cited systemic failures in the school’s security and local law enforcement procedures. It particularly called out the school resource officer (SRO) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for failing to enter the building during the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting, saying it was an “abysmal response.” Former Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, who hunkered down in a stairwell at the school for 48 minutes while the attack unfolded, is described as being repeatedly untruthful about his position and actions.

The panel recommended that police in the position of SRO receive regular tactical training. Peterson had been an SRO for 28 years but was rarely required to use any skills to mitigate violent events. SROs receive ongoing training but often lack current field experience dealing with criminal violence.

While the report recorded each systemic breakdown in painful detail, it also plainly stated that “the one true cause that resulted in 34 people being shot and/or killed, is Nikolas Cruz.”

Documentation of Cruz’s violent tendencies included 69 incidents of troubling behavior between the ages of 3 and 19. In numerous instances, Cruz threatened someone, engaged in violence, talked about guns or weapons, hit his mother, or ran away from home. The report called for more comprehensive mental health and social services in schools.

One of the panel’s more controversial recommendations included the expansion of a program to certify school “guardians” to carry firearms on campus. The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, adopted by the Florida legislature last March, is named for the football coach who died protecting students in the Parkland attack. Qualified candidates for the program must already possess law enforcement or military experience.

The program has drawn its share of controversy, including opposition from the Florida Education Association and the Florida PTA. Both groups argue that guns on campus make the environment less safe, not more.

School districts across the country are debating similar policies. School officials in Tamaqua, Pa., face a lawsuit challenging their recent decision to allow teachers to carry guns at school.

“The rationale for the policy is to prevent the apocalypse,” Tamaqua school board member Nicholas Boyle said. “When we have a shooter in the building, how are we going to stop that shooter from killing more and more and more people? We have to have an armed presence there.”

The entire 458-page report might be too graphic for sensitive readers, but the opening 12 pages contain poignant writings by several of the Parkland survivors, as well as stirring personal tributes from each family who lost a loved one in the attack.

The panel, which includes state and local officials and two parents of victims, remains commissioned until 2023.

“We will not wait, we will be vigilant and we, like the legislature, expect compliance and change with urgency,” the report’s preface concludes.

Associated Press/Photo by Osama Faisal Associated Press/Photo by Osama Faisal The Texas A&M University campus at Education City in Doha, Qatar, in 2011

Friends like these

Over the past decade, Western universities have increasingly forged partnerships with Middle Eastern countries, which include funding streams, even establishing satellite campuses in some Persian Gulf states. Qatar has gone so far as to build an entire Education City that covers more than 5 square miles and houses numerous campuses for major U.S. universities such as Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgetown. Other stateside schools have received billions of dollars of funding from Middle Eastern countries, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Gift and Contract Report.

But recent events, such as the October murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad, as well as last year’s detention of British academic Matthew Hedges in the United Arab Emirates, have caused some of those universities to reevaluate their relationships with their Middle Eastern hosts and donors.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Associate Provost Richard Lester addressed concerns about MIT’s decision to maintain ties to Saudi donors, stating it was a “tough call because none of us wants to lend legitimacy to grotesque actions like the assassination of Khashoggi.” Harvard University, in contrast, has ended its fellowship program with the MiSK Foundation, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s charity.

Funding in higher education is a bigger deal than ever as inexpensive alternatives abound and families increasingly balk at the skyrocketing cost of tuition. And while the universities claim that academic freedom prevails even amidst potentially competing ideologies, concerns remain regarding the influence that deep-pocketed donors can wield. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Sandra J. Milburn/The Hutchinson News Associated Press/Photo by Sandra J. Milburn/The Hutchinson News Braxton Moral

Head of the class

While other 16-year-olds worry about getting the keys to the family car for a Friday night out, Ulysses, Kan., high school senior Braxton Moral’s focus is on grad school. This May, Braxton will graduate not only from Ulysses High School, but also from Harvard University.

His journey began in third grade, when school personnel noticed that Moral had unusually high academic aptitude.

“They told us: ‘You need to do something. He’s not just gifted. He’s really, really gifted,’” said his father, Carlos Moral.

The school and Moral’s family worked together to design a plan that included a battery of testing, skipping the fourth grade, and exploring some options at the local community college. They eventually connected with Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, which recommended the Morals contact Harvard. Moral has used the Harvard Extension School and summers on the Cambridge, Mass., campus to work on his degree while simultaneously attending his hometown high school.

His parents have been careful to keep his teen years as “normal” as possible.

“We wanted him to have the high school experience so he would develop his social skills,” his mom, Julie Moral, told The Hutchinson News.

Moral has participated in forensics and debate, played tennis, and attended his high school prom. He also aspires to be an Eagle Scout.

Beyond graduation, Moral has his sights set on Harvard Law School and a career in politics. “Politics is end game for me,” he said. —L.E.

Paid in full

The Career Education Corporation settled with 48 states and the District of Columbia last week, agreeing to pay off nearly $500 million in student debt. The company is accused of lying about job placement rates and misleading potential students to boost enrollment.

State attorneys general began investigating the CEC in 2014 in response to student complaints and a U.S. Senate report that highlighted numerous inconsistencies in the company’s practices. That report included the admission that the CEC falsified placement data for multiple campuses.

Despite the announcement, company officials insist they’ve done nothing wrong.

“We have remained steadfast in our belief that we can work with the attorneys general to demonstrate the quality of our institutions and our commitment to students,” Todd Nelson, the company’s CEO, said in a statement.

The Illinois-based company operates Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University and serves a combined total of 34,000 students.

The deal includes every state except California, which is pursuing its own settlement, and New York, which already settled independently with the CEC.

Unlike December’s news that former students of now-defunct Corinthian Colleges will receive millions of dollars in loan forgiveness on the taxpayers’ dime, this time the company in question will foot the bill. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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