- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As the orchestrated outrage over the February shootings at Florida’s Parkland high school dies down, it’s time to look at what really led to the rampage during which Nikolas Cruz gunned down and killed 17 Margery Stoneman Douglas students.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was quick to point his finger at the National Rifle Association and the chant was taken up both by the NRA’s traditional critics and others who didn’t realize that Sheriff Israel, Broward County politicians and Obama administration Department of Education officials in Washington were the ones who created a situation that made the rampage not only possible, but almost guaranteed that Cruz or someone like him would one day do what he did.

The arrangements the county had with the Department of Education were mentioned in passing in the days following the shootings, but numerous in-depth investigations like the one published last week by RealClearPolitics have connected the dots. It turns out that Mr. Obama’s Department of Education actually paid Broward County millions of dollars to look the other way when county students, including Nikolas Cruz, committed crimes on and off campus.

Cruz was sent to counseling when it was discovered some time before the shooting that he was carrying live ammunition in his backpack. Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan was a longtime buddy of Broward County’s education chief, Robert Runcie. Mr. Runcie was appointed superintendent in 2011 after Mr. Duncan, for whom he had worked back in Chicago, recommended him to county officials and shortly after his appointment he worked out an agreement with Washington that turned out to be a lit fuse leading almost directly to this year’s shootings.

The agreement took effect in 2013 after Mr. Runcie met with Obama Education Department officials at the White House and was designed to break what Obama administration officials liked to call the “school to prison pipeline.” Under the agreement, Broward County school and law enforcement officials agreed to ignore “minor” criminal violations among students so they wouldn’t end up with criminal records.

In practice, this meant students could get away with almost anything. Broward schools quickly became hell holes, bullying became commonplace, teachers were slugged in classrooms and gangs began running wild. As juvenile crime was being reduced in most Florida jurisdictions, Broward County juvenile crime skyrocketed, complaints from parents whose kids were living in virtual fear of their lives were ignored and the federal money began flowing into the county.

On paper things looked great. Mr. Runcie and his friends were able to report to Washington that student arrests were plummeting and Sheriff Israel, in spite of private misgivings he and others in his department were expressing behind closed doors, bragged in 2016, according to Paul Sperry of RealClearInvestigations, “We have drastically cut down on juvenile arrests” by giving students who might otherwise have been arrested “second, third chances.”

One of those who got a second, third or even fourth chance under the agreement was none other than Nikolas Cruz who was, among other things, caught with live ammunition in his backpack and sent to counseling.

When the student surveys the county had done before signing the agreement revealed a deteriorating situation in the schools, Mr. Runcie’s department stopped taking them. The feds didn’t however and post-2013 surveys of students attending Broward County schools tell a frightening story.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2013 and 2015 fighting, bullying and attempted suicides in the county schools skyrocketed and that 17 percent of county high school students admitted staying away from school at least once because they were afraid to go.

What’s more, 33.5 percent of students reported having been bullied and nearly half had been in fights and nearly 20 percent admitted carrying a gun, knife or club to school for self-protection with county schools have the highest percentage of gun incidents in the state.

Law enforcement and school officials knew before Cruz showed up armed and with murder on his mind that the situation was out of control and getting worse, but they covered it up and doubled down on the cover-up after the shooting.

Congress has held hearings on guns, but what’s needed is a public hearing on what really happened and why. The answers to those questions may be answerable only by Mr. Runcie and Mr. Duncan, who put him in a position to put thousands of students in the nation’s single-largest school district at risk and set the stage for the killing of 17 innocents.

• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.


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