All of us make mistakes. The key is to acknowledge them, learn, and move on. The real sin is ignoring mistakes, or worse, seeking to hide them. --Robert Zoellick
Add another to an ever-growing list of sins committed by Superintendent Robert Runcie, in the years leading up to and in the aftermath of the tragedy at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School February 14th, 2018.
Sin is not a word often associated with a superintendent, a school district, or school board. However, last night’s packed school safety town hall hosted by the Broward County School District at JP Taravela High School was no ordinary Broward County School District town hall. But sins you say, I’ll come back to that shortly.
Last night’s gathering went beyond what might be euphemistically labeled as “community theater”. This town hall was more religious revival than the traditional agitprop we’ve come to expect from the leaders of the Broward County School District.
Right on cue, like a Hollywood production, busloads of witting and unwitting “extras” appeared on set, applauding as community “leaders” heaped praise upon Superintendent Runcie–weaving religious imagery, Deistic metaphors, and Biblical exhortations--even messages of redemption into their public comments.
Marsha Ellison of the Broward County Chapter of the NAACP and Brian Johnson, the vice mayor of West Park set the tone as they kicked off the "festivities" to cheers from many in the crowd. Johnson saying, “I pray God continues to give you strength to endure this ongoing nightmare. An entire community is watching you and admire(s) your strength.” One might mistake Mr. Johnson’s comments as being directed toward the families of the victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, or perhaps to the survivors of the tragedy. Or perhaps to a still-grieving community in search of comfort. No, Mr. Johnson’s comments were in praise of Superintendent Runcie. There was even an Old Testament rebuke of the Superintendent’s detractors.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Psalm 137:5
Despite the well-scripted program, at times the audience seemed lost. Even mistakenly cheering for speakers critical of the Superintendent and the District.
Sins Of Omission
Voicing support for students from around the District, John Daly, a long-time critic of Superintendent Runcie and the School Board, spoke powerfully about the district leaving minority students behind, and arguing that the issue of school safety should not be about race or economic status. Parents from around the District, expressed concerns over continuing safety issues that exist in their childrens' schools. The latest, a gun brought onto campus at Dillard High School this past week-- a stark reminder of the Superintendent’s continuing failure to make school safety a priority at any of the over 200 schools in the District.
Mr. Runcie's failure to follow through in 2013 on promised school security measures and his failure to effectively use taxpayer-approved bonds to enhance school safety. The lack of urgency with which he operates the District. His failure to effectively implement the SMART Bond program. His failure to discipline students that the district knew were threats along with his failure to demonstrate desperately-needed leadership in the wake of the MSD tragedy, are his sins of omission.
Last night wasn't about February 14th, 2018, or MSD or Parkland for that matter. Last night should have been about how to protect every student and every teacher in every school in the district. Last night was a missed opportunity to listen to a community still reeling from a preventable tragedy, to list to parents concerned about the safety of their kids. Most of all, last night was an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Sins of Commission
As the night unfolded, it became clear that the Superintendent would allow his proxies to sow the seeds of division in our county in a well-planned, well-scripted attempt to silence anyone who questioned his tenure.
And therein lies the latest sin of this Superintendent. His attempt to divide a community. Last night was deliberate.
Mr. Runcie and his supporters on the Broward County School Board would rather a community tear itself apart over manufactured racial and socioeconomic divisions than admit they failed to protect the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
For the School Board to allow, and for some on the School Board to encourage, the Superintendent and his supporters to use race and economic disparities to divide the community, should be grounds for their recall. Last night's attempt, was completely within the control of Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward County School Board. Both should publicly disavow it.
But don’t hold your breath. The Superintendent and his supporters hope to silence Parkland and to change the subject. They hope a change will deflect public scrutiny from their past & current inaction on school safety and the general lack of urgency with which they address almost every issue the face.
While the tactics on display last night may have been effective in a town hall setting, they will fall flat under the refiner’s fire of the coming grand jury investigation. Fortunately for a rudderless District, a feckless school board, the students and staff of Broward County schools and a grieving community, that refiner’s fire is coming soon.
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap. Malachi 3:2
It is too late for Aaron, Alaina, Alex, Alyssa, Cara, Carmen, Chris, Gina, Helena, Jaime, Joaquin, Luke, Martin, Meadow, Nicholas, Peter, and Scott, it doesn’t have to be for the other students and staff of Broward County Schools, regardless of where they live or where they go to school. We must recognize the divisive tactics of this superintendent and his enablers and we must reject them.