(As originally published with bells and whistles, Wed, September 7th 2022, 4:57 PM EDT)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — (CBS12) — There has been a lot of recent communication between the state Department of Education and the School District of Palm Beach County — in letters and in person — over measures to make sure schools are safe for students and teachers.
CBS12 News obtained a letter dated Aug. 29 to the superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, Michael Burke, who has since responded.
The director of the Office of Safe Schools, Tim Hay, pointed to the final report of the statewide grand jury convened after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
That grand jury looked into whether school districts were following the new school safety laws that had been enacted. Its report wasn’t released until last month, more than a year after it was completed.
Hay’s letter started by saying the grand jury found “several findings and concerns” in the Palm Beach district, and he personally had “significant concerns about some of the items mentioned.”
He continued, “We have reason to believe that some of the policies and actions the grand jury found are ongoing and require immediate action.”
Then, he listed “some of the district’s identified failures and concerns.”
First, he accused the district of refusing or failing
“to follow the mandates of school-related safety laws such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, [and said it] resulted in unnecessary and avoidable risk to students across the state.”
He wrote in another accusation,
“School officials violated — and continue to violate — state law by systemically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Florida Department of Education.”
Both of those points were written with bold type, the only use of bold type in the letter.
Hay went on to criticize the district for choosing “private security guards as the only Safe School Officer option for charter schools.
His fourth point was related to that. Hay noted, “The district wasted is significant amount of taxpayer dollars by hiring a private security firm (Invictus) to train prospective Guardians in violation of the law.”
The last point listed determined there was
“a problematic approach to the implementation of safety features exhibited in Palm Beach County, and specifically by the Palme [sic] Beach County School District Police Department.
He ended by saying, “Due to the gravity of the issues outlined above,” this state would be contacting Burke to arrange an in-person meeting “to investigate these major concerns,” and that the state would “expect [his] full cooperation.”
The next day, Burke wrote a letter in response pointing out the grand jury did not single out Palm Beach County, the themes it found “have statewide applicability,” and the contract to hire the private security firm was canceled three years ago.
“The School District of Palm Beach County has and continues to consistently adhere to school safety laws and accurate reporting of criminal activity to the Florida Department of Education,” Burke wrote. “We also continue to implement enhanced security measures and further harden our campuses.”
Superintendent Mike Burke says Tim Hay, who wrote the letter, followed up with a visit a few days ago.
“The grand jury report did prompt a visit from the director of safe schools, we share a common goal school safety is a top priority,” Burke told CBS12 reporter Lena Salzbank.
The meeting Hay mentioned took place last Friday, Sept. 2.
Burke followed up with a letter that included documents on the Guardian program (including the settlement with the private firm), training, and sample communications on security for both district-operated and charter schools. He also mentioned work over the summer “to implement the Centegix hard-panic alarm system across all of our 180 school sites,” along with professional development that included “active assailant drills and training for school police, as well as FBI threat assessment training for a large contingent of both district and school-based personnel.”
Palm Beach County was far from alone. Miami-Dade, Orange (Orlando) and Duval (Jacksonville) counties got similar letters from Hay.
Our news partners at the Sun-Sentinel reported Hay’s “significant concerns” with those school districts. Miami-Dade and Broward were also cited for underreporting crimes.
Broward County got the toughest report. The grand jury recommended removing four School Board members there. Gov. Ron DeSantis did so, replacing the women with four Republican men in arguably the most Democratic-leaning county in the state.
The grand jury didn’t recommend removing any other district’s board members.
Hay has been in his current position with the state for almost two years, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before that, he spent years as sergeant at arms with the Florida Senate.
He also lists working with the National Legislative Services and Security Association and having completed a “basic recruit class” at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.