Today, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) filed a bill, the Asserting Basic Common-sense Coordination in School Discipline Act, or The ABCs in School Discipline Act, which prohibits “federal funds from being used to establish school discipline policies that intentionally discourage schools from reporting certain dangerous student behavior to local law enforcement.”
The bill is in direct response to the school shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were killed, and another 17 injured. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had a long history of school discipline problems and making violent threats against other students. This was known by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO), who made dozens of visits to his home, but none of the events prior to the shooting ever resulted in his arrest.
As I reported for RedState a few weeks ago, it was the established policy of the Broward County School District (BCSD) and the BSO to avoid arresting juveniles — even for felonies, violent crimes, or threats against school safety. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel bragged about the program and stated publicly that he ordered his deputies to issue juveniles with civil citations, and not arrest them.
The end result was after Israel took office in 2013 and this program was implemented, the crime rate in Broward County stayed roughly the same, but the number of juvenile arrests dropped by about half, meaning that thousands of crimes went unpunished.
Cruz appears to be one of the juveniles who fell through the cracks. Nineteen years old at the time of the shooting, many of his offenses occurred before he turned 18 and while he was still under the jurisdiction of the BCSD. Had he been arrested for some of these incidents, it could have resulted in the authorities searching his home and seizing any guns in his possession, as well as putting him on the list of people prohibited from purchasing guns. Florida law specifically defines making a violent threat against another person as a felony, and also has a separate crime for cyberstalking, which would have covered the threats he posted on social media against other students.
“[W]e do know that by the fall of 2016, school officials and law enforcement knew Cruz was a serious danger,” said Rubio in a press release announcing his bill, “yet law enforcement never arrested him nor was he reported to law enforcement by the school.”
“Given the errors in Broward’s discipline system, I have concerns that other schools may fail to report alarming student behavior to law enforcement in an attempt to reduce school-based arrests,” Rubio continued. “This commonsense bill will ensure school discipline policies do not intentionally discourage schools from working with law enforcement. I urge my colleagues to quickly pass this bill, which is another step toward preventing tragedies like Parkland from happening again.”
The text of Rubio’s bill adds a new section to the federal law governing federal funds provided to public schools in the states, and prohibits using those funds “to develop or implement a discipline policy that discourages schools from reporting any disciplinary action to law enforcement agencies, or discourages law enforcement agencies from arresting an individual” for a list of offenses including:
(1) any misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
(2) harassing, stalking, or threatening an inti- mate partner, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury;
(3) any crime that is punishable by imprison- ment for a term exceeding 1 year;
(4) any crime related to being a fugitive from justice;
(5) unlawful possession of a firearm; or
(6) exhibiting verbal or physical threatening behavior towards others, including—
(A) acts of violence resulting in expulsion from school;
(B) threats involving firearms or other weapons; or
(C) other actions resulting in a reason- able fear of bodily injury.
Updated to add: Real Clear Investigations has a detailed article by Paul Sperry discussing the problems with the school disciplinary system in Broward County and the connection to Obama-era education policies, which Rubio’s bill aims to correct.
Despite committing a string of arrestable offenses on campus before the Florida school shooting, Nikolas Cruz was able to escape the attention of law enforcement, pass a background check and purchase the weapon he used to slaughter three staff members and 14 fellow students because of Obama administration efforts to make school discipline more lenient.
Documents reviewed by RealClearInvestigations and interviews show that his school district in Florida’s Broward County was in the vanguard of a strategy, adopted by more than 50 other major school districts nationwide, allowing thousands of troubled, often violent, students to commit crimes without legal consequence…
In just a few years, ethnically diverse Broward went from leading the state of Florida in student arrests to boasting one of its lowest school-related incarceration rates. Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions also plummeted.
Applications for federal grants reveal that [Broward school Superintendent Robert] Runcie’s plan factored into approval of tens of millions of dollars in federal funding from Duncan’s department.
Sperry’s article is worth reading in its entirety, specifically for the examples of how these policies have been implemented around the country and how they failed in the case of Nikolas Cruz.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.