Florida Governor Wants Grand Jury to Investigate Schools
Saying that parents remain frustrated with school officials’ responses to last year’s Valentine’s Day massacre, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday called for a statewide grand jury to investigate whether school districts are following laws enacted in the wake of the attack that left 17 dead.
If the Republican governor’s request is approved by the Florida Supreme Court, the 18-member grand jury would have the power to call witnesses and ultimately return indictments. It would mark yet another probe launched in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Parents of some of the students who were killed had been calling for the removal of the Broward County school superintendent and some of the local school board members. DeSantis had previously said he has concluded he does not have the legal authority to remove the appointed superintendent, but he said the grand jury would bring needed accountability to the tragedy.
“A lot of the parents here have been frustrated … it seems like locally here which is ground zero there hasn’t been the same sense of urgency,” DeSantis said during a media conference.
The parents of the victims stood solemnly behind DeSantis, many with tears in their eyes, some with their heads down.
“When your child is murdered in school, you expect to get some answers. You don’t really expect a cover-up,” said Andy Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was murdered.
He praised the governor’s efforts along with several other parents.
“I’ve been fighting for accountability. We gave the school board and the superintendent, they’ve had a year to fix Broward County and make our schools safe. This is ground zero and they continue to fail us … finally I think that we’re going to be able to make these schools safe,” said Max Schacter, whose son Alex was killed.
Shortly after the shooting, legislators in Florida passed a sweeping bill that included some gun restrictions, but also set aside millions for school districts to put in armed security at school campuses. The head of a commission set up to investigate the Parkland tragedy has testified recently that some districts are not following some of the mandates included in the law.
DeSantis said he wants the grand jury to review compliance with the new law and whether districts are diverting money from initiatives intended to improve school safety. He also wants to look at whether districts are underreporting incidents of criminal activity.
The governor earlier on Wednesday also announced that he wants the Department of Education to audit any school discipline diversion programs set up by school districts. He also said that districts should get a second chance to tap into millions of unused money associated with the guardian program that allows for schools to train and hire armed guards instead of relying on school resource officers. Only slightly more than a third of school districts have set up guardian programs.
The grand jury probe would be the fourth investigation associated with the Parkland tragedy. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation last year into how local law-enforcement agencies responded to the shooting but that probe is still under way.
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GARY FINEOUT and KELLI KENNEDY. “Florida governor wants grand jury to investigate schools” APNews. February 13, 2019 https://apnews.com/94d0a70e38ff46c5973ac9f033e1e84b