- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2018

Some of his Parkland classmates want to crackdown on firearms in the wake of the deadly school shooting, but Anthony Borges wants to know why the sheriff and superintendent failed to crackdown on the shooter.

The 15-year-old Borges, hailed for his heroism after he was shot five times as he shielded 20 students by blocking a doorway, told Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and superintendent Robert Runcie in a letter that “both of you failed us students, teachers and parents alike on so many levels.”

“I want to ask you today to please end your policy and agreement that you will not arrest people committing crimes in our schools,” said the letter. “I want all of us to move forward to end the environment that allowed people like Nikolas Cruz to fall through the cracks.”

His statement was read at a Friday press conference in Plantation, Florida, by attorney Alex Arreaza as the young man sat next to him in a wheelchair, still weak after being released Wednesday from a Fort Lauderdale hospital after seven weeks.

“You knew he was a problem years ago and you did nothing,” said the letter as read by Mr. Arreaza. “He should have never been in school with us. I ask you today to make the commitment to protect the students and teachers and provide a safe learning environment.”

The decision by Anthony Borges and his family to focus on Broward County’s discipline reforms and emphasis on keeping children in class comes as a striking departure from the debate on gun control that has dominated the national post-Parkland shooting debate.

In 2013, Mr. Runcie, an ally of former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adopted a framework designed to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” by reducing suspensions, expulsions and arrests, which were embraced a year later by the Obama administration in its 2014 guidance on school discipline.

“Nobody’s addressing the problem of that created Nikolas Cruz, and that’s what’s frustrating,” said Mr. Arreaza.

The 19-year-old gunman has been charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder after opening fire Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The accused killer had amassed a thick file of disciplinary infractions, including making threats, fighting and bringing bullets to school in a backpack, and was shuffled to various schools but never expelled, according to discipline files obtained by the Miami Herald.

Deputies had also responded to frequent calls at his home. Despite his troubles both in and out of school, however, Mr. Cruz was able to avoid a criminal record, thus allowing him to pass a background check and buy the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering rescinding the Obama administration’s 2014 Dear Colleague on school discipline, which has been hailed for keeping kids in school as well as decried for fueling classroom chaos.

Mr. Arreaza said the Borges family plans to start by filing civil lawsuits against Mr. Cruz, the estate of his mother Lynda Cruz, who died in November, and the family that cared for him afterward.

No lawsuits can be filed against the Broward Sheriff’s Office or Broward County Public Schools for six months after the shooting under Florida law.

Anthony Borges has been called “Ironman,” but he responded that “while I am honored to be called this, I am not. I am a 15-year-old who was shot five times.”

“As of right now, I would like to go back to school, but I’m afraid this sort of thing can happen again,” said his letter.

Mr. Arreaza said Anthony also supports his classmates, several of whom have become national figures in the fight for gun control, but his father Roger Borges, who was born in Venezuela, expressed skepticism about the ability of protest marches to improve school safety.

“While they appreciate and applaud the efforts in Washington, D.C., Venezuela is a place where they have gorgeous marches with millions of people, and nothing gets done,” said Mr. Arreaza. “He has decided he is going to put his faith in the American justice system and our judicial system and do whatever he needs to do to stop it here.”

Anthony, who was born in the U.S., was wheeled out of the press conference by his grandfather after about 20 minutes, clearly exhausted, as shown in video posted by Local10 News in Miami, the ABC affiliate.

“He had a promising soccer career and because of the failure of the system and the school board, this has occurred,” said Mr. Arreaza.

The attorney raised questions about the district’s PROMISE program, aimed at keeping disruptive but non-violent students in school using counseling and restorative-justice methods.

While the school district has said Mr. Cruz was not enrolled in PROMISE — at least not in high school — the district’s emphasis on keeping kids in class through PROMISE and other strategies has come under heavy criticism since the shooting.

Hunter Pollack, brother of shooting victim Meadow Pollack, cheered Anthony Borges as a “hero” and said that PROMISE provided “a helping hand to the death of my sister.”

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, has accused the school system of tying the hands of school resource officers, saying, “They were basically paying us not to make arrests.”

At Stoneman Douglas, it was “common knowledge that you could go into that school and you’re not going to get arrested,” said Mr. Arreaza.

“They created an atmosphere where you actually have this killer brewing there,” he said, “and it’s a byproduct of the school allowing criminal behavior to go unpunished.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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