Ron DeSantis orders grand jury probe of school safety, statewide audit of school diversion programs

The order calls for an audit of all 67 counties’ school districts for diversion programs like the “PROMISE” program, which Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was referred to while a student in the Broward County school district.
Published Feb. 13, 2019|Updated Feb. 13, 2019

One day before the first anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he will ask the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury tasked with investigating the Broward County school system and other districts for their handling of school safety.

DeSantis, in Broward Wednesday afternoon, appeared with several family members whose loved ones were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He said the grand jury would be able to issue subpoenas, look into any potential failures and determine how the Broward school district and others carried out safety policies or used funds allocated for school hardening.

He said he listened to cries from the families about suspending the school district’s superintendent or school board members for an apparent lack of urgency in school hardening, but determined he did not have the authority to do so. The superintended is appointed by school board members, so the governor cannot remove him.

DeSantis said policy disagreements would not likely rise to the level of misfeasance or incompetence necessary to suspend an elected school board member. He also noted that the district held elections in November, during which school safety was discussed as a key issue.

The grand jury would have a “broader mandate” and “complement” work done by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, appointed by the state to investigate the school shooting. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court had not yet received the petition. It will be posted to its website.

“This is looking at a whole host of issues,” DeSantis said. “I think they will have a very broad mandate.”

Earlier in the day, the governor ordered a statewide audit of discipline diversion programs and a slate of other directives to bolster school safety measures.

In an executive order, DeSantis called for an audit of all 67 counties’ school districts for diversion programs like the “PROMISE” program, which Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was referred to while a student in the Broward County school district. The audit “should determine the requirements for eligibility and operation of these programs, the costs of these programs, their stated impact on school and public safety, and whether there is evidence to support their continuation, closure or regulation in law.”

DeSantis’ order also directed the Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Justice to work together to review the programs by July 1 and, “at a minimum, determine whether there is adequate information or evidence available to draw an informed conclusion about the efficacy of these programs and their impact on school and public safety.”

“Although protecting our students is a perpetual process, there are steps we can take immediately to improve safety in our schools,” DeSantis said in a statement. “While we cannot bring back the innocents lost, we can honor their memory by learning from the mistakes that were made and resolving to swiftly correct all of those within our control.”

DeSantis also sent a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement directing the agency to create a threat analysis strategy to help identify and prevent future threats of mass violence, including social media monitoring.

The governor’s executive order also directs the state’s education commissioner, former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, to reopen the application period for the so-called “guardian” program through April 1 to extend the window for sheriffs who want to participate, and to communicate to school superintendents how to comply with the law over the guardian program and school resource officers.

The order also directs the department to “take all necessary steps to provide a centralized, integrated data repository and data analytics resources to improve access to timely school safety information” by August, after the December deadline was missed late last year.

-- Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Elizabeth Koh and Miami Herald staff writer Martin Vassolo contributed to this story.