Mass Murder: Coming to a School Near You

Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America's Students by Andrew Pollack, Max Eden, and Hunter Pollack doesn’t focus primarily on the murderer of seventeen people at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School on Valentine’s Day, 2018, though the book does contain chapters describing the troubled life of the shooter (often designated  by his prison number, 18-1958, to avoid giving the killer further notoriety).  Instead, most of this compelling work exposes the “restorative justice” discipline model brought to Broward County schools by Superintendent Robert Runcie, someone without a background in education who was a Chicago-based IT employee of Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  It was Runcie’s lenient, racially-focused model that created the mass murderer at MSD High School.  Even worse, that same discipline approach is creating toxic environments in schools across the country thanks to leftist pressure groups and Obama’s education secretary.

Why Meadow Died was written by Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow, in conjunction with the Manhattan Institute’s senior fellow in education policy, Max Eden. Meadow was one of seventeen students and adults murdered at MSD High School, an atrocity that happened not because of the availability of guns, but because an ideologically-driven bureaucratic system demanded fake statistics about arrests, suspensions, and student behavior to prove the efficacy of Runcie’s disciplinary approach.  This bogus data was required if teachers and administrators were to survive or advance within this corrupt system.  

After the Parkland shooting, media attention focused overwhelmingly, as it always does, on “gun control.”  The sham “townhall” produced by CNN after the massacre gave a heroic platform to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, whose department's response to the shooting provided a textbook example of malpractice.  The show’s host and questioners ignored the fact that Israel had cooperated enthusiastically in a school program that all but ignored criminal behavior by students, including actions that would have made it impossible for Cruz to purchase a firearm.  Meanwhile, in the wake of the shooting, Superintendent Runcie received accolades for a policy that, according to Pollock and Eden, was at much to blame for the massacre as Cruz himself.   

Runcie’s leftist-inspired program claimed that traditional school discipline is both punitive and discriminatory since minority students are suspended and punished at rates higher than white students.  This and other disparities provided for reformers clear evidence that teachers were racially biased and that the traditional system of discipline was destructive for minority groups.  To make matters worse, kids who often misbehaved, even those issuing threats and engaging in fights, were regularly labeled “special-needs” and thus put in another potentially “victimized” grouping.  The obvious explanation that fatherless homes and hostile environments largely account for statistical disparities was dismissed as racist.  “Social justice,” reformers insist, demands that suspensions and punishments for blacks, whites, Hispanics, and special-needs kids be equally distributed.   Furthermore, since punitive punishment and law enforcement involvement is viewed as feeding the “school-to-prison pipeline,” Runcie’s program set out to drastically lower such punishments, especially arrests. 

To achieve these goals, it was necessary to ignore bad behavior, to make reporting even egregious misbehavior bureaucratically burdensome, and to provide the “least restrictive” punishment for disciplinary violations.  The disastrous result of this approach was predictable -- increased bullying by kids who had little to fear for misbehavior, even for actions that extended to death threats and assaults.  The consequence for teachers who didn’t produce the desired statistics was also predictable: “Give a warning.  Issue a consequence.  Be labeled a racist.”  So while the numbers for suspensions and arrests dropped dramatically, making Runcie and his program a nationwide model, the numbers didn’t reflect reality.  Meanwhile, many students in Broward County were placed in normal classrooms alongside felons.  And at MSD students were interacting on campus with someone who should have been a felon or at the very least placed in a special education setting and denied access to guns.

The information provided in a chapter devoted exclusively to 18-1958 is chilling -- his family background, his bloody fantasies, his cruelty to animals, a vicious assault that he initiated on campus, and his incessant threats to kill himself and others, threats that were consistently minimized both by school officials and Parkland police.  The fact that he was eventually placed back in a regular school setting and even allowed to enroll in Junior ROTC caps off a host of decisions that illustrate the incompetence and ideological rigidity of those implementing school policy. 

This mismanagement is further highlighted in a chapter that provides an incomplete list of forty-two ways Meadow’s death and, in many cases, the entire Parkland shooting, could have been avoided.  The list implicates, among others, Runcie’s discipline policy, the pathetic Broward County police response, the incompetent and predatory MSD security monitor, School Resource Officer Scot Peterson (who remained in a safe space holding the only gun on campus while students were being murdered), failure to secure all entrances to the campus, and failure of the district to install an alarm system that wouldn’t send students on a deadly fire drill during a shooting. 

The final chapters of Why Meadow Died relate the attempt by Pollack, Eden, and others to change the composition of Broward County’s school board and to oust the politically conscious and often vindictive Runcie from his position.  Highlighted in this section is a courageous teen journalist named Kenny Preston, who confronted Runcie and the Board with critical facts that they invariably deflected, misrepresented, or denied.  In an act of unbelievable spite against this young man with mild cognitive issues, Kenny was denied graduation for what seem trivial reasons.  In the authors’ view, “At the end of the school year, Kenny was the only person in the entire Broward County school district to face any consequences for what happened on February 14.”  Likewise, the mendacity, intimidation, and cowardice displayed during the school board election was a true reflection of the powers that be in Broward County and of the 2-to-1 Democrat constituency that not only featured a blowhard judge, Elijah Williams, who referred to the Parkland massacre as a “so-called tragedy” but also returned to power (over a man who lost his daughter in the massacre) a school board lackey who had the audacity to call 2018 “an amazing school year.”   

The reason the authors believe another school massacre like Parkland’s is inevitable is that Runcie’s “social justice” discipline model has been implemented in hundreds of districts throughout the country, something Max Eden illustrates with numerous horror tales in chapter nine -- tales related by teachers so intimidated by administrators that they speak anonymously.  This lemming-like institutional behavior isn’t simply a consequence of the ideological conformity that characterizes education professionals.  It also stems from a “Dear Colleague” letter sent by Arne Duncan that in effect threatens to investigate and bring civil rights suits against schools that fail to pursue discipline policies like those in Broward County and to produce similar statistical results.  Though the Trump Administration revoked Duncan’s directive, school districts throughout the country still cling to the ineffective and dangerous approach that teaches kids most at risk that there will be no significant consequences even for criminal behavior -- a lesson many will rue once they are out of school.  Of course the victims most to be pitied for these policies are students and teachers who are bullied, assaulted, and occasionally murdered by the fruit of Arne Duncan and Robert Runcie’s politically-correct reform tree -- victims like Meadow and her family.     

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle   

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