MIAMI – A recently released grand jury report on school safety in Florida takes aim at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, accusing the district of altering its record-keeping to show a deflated number of campus fights.
In the report released late Wednesday, the statewide grand jury looking into last year’s Parkland school shooting chided schools, law enforcement and other local jurisdictions over continued “turf wars” that could hamper the response to another crisis.
The grand jury said the continued squabbling and other “systemic” failures were urgent enough for it to present before its term.
It suggested that lawmakers give the state Department of Education authority to monitor and enforce compliance with a raft of laws put in place after the shooting that killed 17 people, including 14 students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
Page 11 of the report cites “data manipulation” at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“A recent example comes to us from the Miami-Dade school district,” the grand jury said. “In the 2014-15 school year, more than 5,000 fights were reported in Miami-Dade schools, but the by the 2015-16 school year, that number went down to 311. What innovative program did the district adopt to resolve this issue? Counseling? Group therapy? Improved disciplinary measures for students involved in physical altercations? No.”
Instead, the grand jury wrote, the district “chose to modify its own interpretation of what kinds of physical altercations qualified as ‘fighting’” for the purposes of reporting.
The school district denies such claims, saying in a statement to Local 10 News that Miami-Dade County Public Schools “makes every effort to fully comply with state reporting requirements.”
In its response to the allegations brought forth by the grand jury, the district said the Florida Department of Education “provides a clear definition of ‘fighting’ that is consistent” with the district’s reporting practices.
“The report’s characterization of our school district’s reporting as some form of data manipulation is, unfortunately, mistaken,” the district’s statement continued. “The district uses the same definitions prescribed by the state.”
Shortly after taking office, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested that the Florida Supreme Court impanel a statewide grand jury for a yearlong review into school safety.
Much of the grand jury’s concerns aren’t new, including concern over antiquated radios and communications systems, staffing and debate over arming staffers. In particular, the grand jury urged school districts to assume responsibility for making sure armed security personnel are installed at charter schools.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, operating under the auspices of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has pointed out many of the same concerns.