When we first started homeschooling our daughter, safety was not the biggest consideration. We were mainly concerned that a traditional school would not be sufficiently challenging for her academically and intellectually. But safety is definitely one of our biggest concerns now.
Just following news stories these days, it is shocking how many school districts and other authorities deliberately conceal security risks from parents and the students themselves or outright enable troubled students.
Yesterday, I read a local article about a child at an elementary school here – the school our daughter would be attending right now if we sent her to public school, in fact – who had been arrested for bringing drugs to school. The article noted that the child already had a criminal record, and was on FELONY probation. Imagine being on felony probation in elementary school. Imagine having your child at a school where kids on the playground already had serious criminal records. And school officials said nothing to parents about it so they could warn their children.
By far the worst story I have read lately is about Baker County Public Schools in the Jacksonville area. A high school student had produced several graphic and highly technical plans to murder police officers, staff, and students at his school. He had calculated the length of time it would take for officers to reach his school and how long it would take them to make it into the school and stop his massacre. He tried to quantify which campus locations would allow him to slaughter the most people.
Another student learned about his plans and did exactly what authorities told them to do: he told a teacher. The school worked with police to charge the student, only to have Circuit Judge Gloria Walker of the 8th circuit (recently elected; she used to work for a legal aid nonprofit for low-income families in North Florida) dismiss the charges against the student and send him home free, with no accountability whatsoever. Her argument was that authorities could not prove that the student “transmitted” his plans. Because he showed his plans to another student in person and did not say, make a random threat on Facebook Live, he could not be considered a legitimate threat under the law.
How can any parent of a child at that school continue to put their kids on a school bus after that? I know I couldn’t.
The student wrote he wanted to “kill officers and then the gate keeper — then go one by one” and that he would have nine minutes to gun down as many people as possible, considering the distance between the sheriff’s office and the school, according to Maj. Randy Crews of the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.
In a composition notebook, the student also wrote “kill the first responders first,” and “there will most likely be chaos. You kill as much as you can before the other students/teachers notice,” according to documents obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM.
But after the student was arrested, a judge dismissed the case saying prosecutors did not prove the threat was “transmitted” under state law, Crews told the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Tuesday.
Crews told the commission, which was created after last year’s mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, that state law needs to be clarified to allow the prosecution of potentially dangerous juveniles, like the Baker County student.
“I am not a lawyer, but I want to make you aware of this situation,” Crews said. “If these judges make these rulings, we are moving backwards.”
The juvenile was not named during Tuesday’s commission meeting, but commission Chairman Bob Gualtieri later identified the judge as Circuit Judge Gloria Walker of the 8th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Baker, Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.
Under state law, people commit second-degree felonies if they write and send threats to kill or do bodily injury to “the person to whom such letter or communication is sent” or “to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent.”
Crews argued the student’s case shouldn’t have been dismissed because the threats in the notebook were unearthed after the student showed them to a classmate, who then reported it to a teacher.
Crews told News4Jax on Tuesday the sheriff’s office believes the law, Florida statue 836.10, clearly applies to the student when it states that “any person who makes, posts, or transmits a threat in a writing.”
“Prosecution plead with the judge about the case law, about the case, about the interpretation of the law and quite frankly the judge disagreed and dismissed the case,” Crews told the commission. “If it’s got a law that needs to be clarified – I’m not a lawyer. It was clear to me. It was clear to the prosecutor.”
“This is a case where everything was done the way it should have been done,” Crews continued. “A kid saw something and said something, took it to the teachers, school resource officers were involved, we investigated.”
Upon learning about the dismissal of the case, members of the state commission were outraged and worried the student, who is no longer detained, could be a danger to the North Florida community.
“The judge falls outside the scope of reasonableness. I just hope they can live with themselves if something happens,” said Commissioner Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland.
In a Sept. 9 news release, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office said the juvenile admitted to detectives that he wrote multiple plans to carry out the school shooting with the specific campus locations, dates and times and the specific people he would attack. But the student denied any intention of going through with those plans, the sheriff’s office said.
Gualtieri, who is the sheriff of Pinellas County, said that while he thinks the judge’s ruling is “disturbing,” he doesn’t know what the commission could recommend lawmakers to do.
“The question is, does the statute need to be changed? I don’t see anything in statute that needs to be changed,” Gualtieri said.
Commissioner Max Schachter, father of slain Parkland student Alex Schachter, was frustrated by Gualtieri’s response and suggested the commission scold the judge in a letter for ruling against law enforcement’s actions to “prevent the next Parkland.”
“The commission should write a letter emphasizing … that releasing this person back into society — knowing how they want to kill all these people — is irresponsible and puts the community at risk,” Schachter said.
But no other commissioner agreed with him.
“For us to intervene and chastise a judge and their conduct, I don’t think it is appropriate,” said Commissioner Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant state attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Instead, Bartlett said voters could vote out the judge in the next election.
“This seems to be a situation that happened in one place and a decision made by one court,” the Pinellas sheriff said. “It’s unfortunate and extremely troubling, and all we can do is hope this kid, who is out on the street does not execute his plan.”
The Baker County Sheriff’s Office said they are trying to appeal this case