Following repeated denials by the Broward County School District superintendent that the confessed perpetrator of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting had “no connection” to an alternative punishment program designed to limit on-campus arrests, Broward officials “confirmed” on Sunday that Nikolas Cruz was assigned to the controversial disciplinary program.
In 2013, Cruz was referred to the so-called PROMISE Program for a three-day placement after he vandalized a bathroom at Westglades Middle School.
Despite Cruz’s assignment to PROMISE, it remains unclear if Cruz attended the program, WLRN reported.
Tracy Clark, a spokeswoman for Superintendent Robert Runcie, said that Cruz appeared at Pine Ridge Education Center in Fort Lauderdale — an alternative school where PROMISE is housed — for an intake interview the day after the vandalism incident.
However, Clark said, “It does not appear that Cruz completed the recommended three-day assignment/placement.” Clark declined to “speculate” why Cruz did not complete the program.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office has also claimed that Cruz did not participate in PROMISE.
“The school board reports that there was no PROMISE program participation,” Broward Sheriff’s Office representative Jack Dale said during a recent meeting of a new state commission established to investigate the shooting.
At a time when more students were being arrested in Broward schools than in any other district in Florida, PROMISE was designed to limit the “school-to-prison pipeline.” According to WLRN, “The PROMISE program allows students who commit certain misdemeanors — there’s an official list of 13 — at school to avoid getting involved with the criminal justice system. Instead, they attend the alternative school, where they receive counseling and other support.”
The program has come under scrutiny following the deaths of 17 people in the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla., in part because one of the injured victims intends to file a lawsuit that will allege that PROMISE created a lax attitude among school administrators regarding discipline. The administrators have argued that the attack on the program is politically motivated, and based on “misinformation” and “fake news.”
Runcie has defended the program by lauding its high success rate in preventing recidivism, claiming that nearly nine out of 10 students who participate in PROMISE do not commit another offense at school that would cause them to be sent them back to the program.
Runcie has also contended that a link between PROMISE and the shooting does not exist, calling it “reprehensible” that people have attempted to use the tragedy to demonize the program.
During an April interview, Runcie said, “I’m not going to allow a shift from what our focus needs to be to a fictitious narrative that’s being made up about a successful program that we have in Broward County that has no connection to the shooter or the situation at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”
Runcie has argued that critics are conflating PROMISE with the district’s full range of disciplinary policies, assuming administrators assign the relatively lenient punishment to students who commit felonies. That is not the case, according to Runcie, who claimed that students who commit serious crimes are arrested and either suspended or expelled from traditional schools.
“The narrative out there that we have lawlessness going on in our schools … is absolutely not true,” Runcie said.
There has been a surge in criticism of PROMISE since the Parkland shooting, but there has also been evidence of public support, with “successful” program participants appearing at public meetings to offer testimonials.
Meanwhile, Runcie and the members of the Broward County school board have pledged to protect PROMISE.
“There is no intent to get rid of the PROMISE program,” School Board Member Rosalind Osgood said at an April meeting.
Board Chair Nora Rupert agreed, saying, “Nope.”