Stoneman Douglas admins sue Runcie
Three embattled administrators from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are suing Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, saying they acted heroically during the Feb. 14 massacre but are now being used as scapegoats for the district’s security failures.
The three assistant principals, Jeff Morford, Denise Reed and Winfred Porter, say Runcie took “illegal and politically motivated disciplinary actions” when he removed them from the school Monday and placed them under internal investigation.
“The disciplinary notices … put the center of blame on employees who in part risked their lives on Feb. 14, 2018 and not Runcie and/or the district as to any lack of training and leadership,” the suit alleges.
The three administrators, who have been assigned to jobs in district offices, are not allowed to comment on the case at the direction of the district, said Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association, which is representing them. Neither Runcie nor a district spokesman responded to requests for comment.
Runcie reassigned the administrators, as well as security specialist Kevin Greenleaf, a few days after assuring a commission investigating the Parkland massacre that he would hold employees accountable. The district had been criticized for firing two low-level security monitors but not taking any action against people in leadership roles.
A recent presentation from the Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission found a number of failures at the school, including ignored warning signs from students about killer Nikolas Cruz, unmanned gates, a botched emergency lockdown, a failure to create safe spaces in class-
rooms, locked bathrooms where students couldn’t enter and hide, and overall ineffective leadership during the shooting.
The lawsuit blames those problems on Runcie, saying his staff failed to properly train administrators and teachers or enact security policies for them to follow. For example, the district had no policy against locking gates or bathroom doors, nor is there an active shooter lockdown policy, Maxwell said.
The administrators say they removed Cruz from Stoneman Douglas a year before the shooting, and they “assisted and attempted to save lives on Feb. 14,” according to the suit.
Reed, who was in charge that day because Principal Ty Thompson was on vacation, “ran towards (not away) from the shooting and the murderer to save lives,” the suit says. She headed toward the building where the shooting happened without knowing what was going on and heard gunshots, Maxwell said.
“She immediately grabs every student she can get her hands on and pulls 80 students in the band room,” Maxwell said. “She proceeds to barricade the door and puts her body in front of kids to hide them.”
Maxwell said Porter called for an evacuation, the wrong procedure for an active shooter, because fire alarm panels indicated a gas leak, not gunfire. He canceled that after he realized there was a shooting, Maxwell said. Both Reed and Porter called for a “Code Red” emergency lockdown after they realized there was a shooter.
However, the Stoneman Douglas Commission concluded that security monitor Elliot Bonner was the first to call for a lockdown, and it wasn’t done until three minutes after the shooting started and 24 people had been shot on the first floor.
Morford was monitoring the security cameras during the massacre, Maxwell said.
Letters sent to the employees don’t say what they are accused of doing wrong, only that their actions related to the tragedy are being reviewed.
That violates the district’s employee discipline policy, Maxwell said.
“The policy is very explicit about what the incident isn’t and what are the specific allegations,” she said.
The district’s decision to remove the administrators has led to teacher protests and student walkouts this week.
Others, including families of the victims, praised the district’s actions against the administrators as long overdue and criticized the lawsuit.
“Attempts to hinder this investigation dishonor those that died in the tragedy and put the lives of our students and teachers at risk,” said Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died, added, “It’s a strange thing to watch people whose actions led to your daughter’s murder call the mildest form of accountability ‘illegal.’”