A father whose 18-year-old daughter was killed in the Parkland massacre is warning other parents that schools across the country could be vulnerable to similar shootings.
Andrew Pollack penned an op-ed about the lax disciplinary policies he believes caused the February 14, 2018 tragedy that left his daughter Meadow and 16 others dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The op-ed ran in USA Today on Tuesday, the same day Pollack and co-author Max Eden released their book unraveling what led up to the mass shooting.
‘After my daughter was murdered … I wanted every answer,’ Pollack writes.
‘As I investigated, I realized that it was the most avoidable mass murder in American history. And I learned something else that keeps me up at night: The policies that made this massacre inevitable have spread to schools across America.’
Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow in the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, penned an op-ed on Tuesday warning parents that schools across the US could be vulnerable to similar shootings
Pollack asserted that the Broward County school district’s ‘disciplinary leniency policies’ allowed 19-year-old shooter Nikolas Cruz (pictured in March 2019) to ‘slip through the cracks’
One of the key questions Pollack wanted to answer in his investigation was whether the Broward County school district’s ‘disciplinary leniency policies’ allowed the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, to ‘slip through the cracks’.
That question and similar ones were not well received by Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie, who called them ‘fake news’, according to Pollack.
In the wake of the shooting, Runcie fiercely denied reports that Cruz, then 19, had been referred to the district’s controversial PROMISE disciplinary program, which offered an alternative to arrest for certain crimes committed on school property.
The program’s critics claimed it was part of a culture of lax discipline that allowed Cruz to avoid being arrested and easily buy the AR-15 rifle he used in the shooting.
It wasn’t until about three months later that the district admitted that Cruz was referred to the program in middle school but never completed it.
Runcie defended his previous false statements by blaming the confusion on inefficient record-keeping.
In his op-ed, Pollack asserts that Runcie’s initial claim was ‘carefully crafted’ in that he said Cruz was never referred ‘in high school’.
Pollack goes on to vilify school officials for choosing not to have Cruz arrested despite his multiple threats to shoot up the school and harm fellow students and student claims that he brought weapons on campus on more than one occasion.
Instead, assistant principals opted to ban Cruz from bringing a backpack to school and had him frisked by a security guard every time he entered the grounds.
While alarming, the administrators’ actions followed protocol, Pollack says.
‘Broward’s policies allowed students convicted of crimes as serious as murder and rape to go back into normal classrooms,’ he writes.
‘Broward’s “Policy 5006” said that referring serious felonies like sexual assault or arson to the police was optional.
‘Principals were trained to not cooperate with law enforcement, refusing to even tell officers whether suspected felons were on campus.’
Pollack calls the Parkland shooting ‘the most avoidable mass murder in American history’. His op-ed ran the same day Pollack and co-author Max Eden released their book unraveling what led up to the mass shooting, ‘Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students’
A year and a half after the shooting shocked the nation, not much has changed at the school.
Pollack cites a 2019 poll of 1,884 district teachers by the Broward Teachers Union, which found that 50 percent feared for their personal safety in the past two years and 13 percent had been assaulted in the current school year.
Less than 20 percent of teachers said they thought a student who assaulted them would be expelled or sent to a specialized school, and only 39 percent thought that student would be suspended.
Pollack writes: ‘In this environment, it was no surprise that the Parkland shooter’s crimes went unpunished. And that his subcriminal misbehavior, which could have earned him a ticket to the specialized school he so badly needed to be in, went ignored.’
‘Beyond the fact that my daughter was murdered in the most avoidable school shooting in history, what keeps me up at night is the fact that Broward’s anti-discipline policies have spread to schools nationwide,’ he added.
Pollack goes on to blame President Barack Obama’s administration for the spread of ‘anti-discipline policies’.
In January 2014, the Department of Justice and Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began sending out a Dear Colleague Letter encouraging districts to revise their zero-tolerance policies in an effort to stop the school-to-pipeline.
According to a report by the Manhattan Institute, the DCL from then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed that: ‘(1) school districts rely excessively on suspensions; (2) black students are suspended at disproportionately high rates primarily because of educators’ racial bias; (3) suspensions cause substantial long-term harm to students; and (4) schools should curtail traditional discipline (suspensions) in favor of new “restorative” approaches that emphasize dialogue over punishment’.
Supporters of the DCL said it was meant to provide ‘nonbinding guidance’ to schools and help administrators use discipline in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Others criticized the letter, saying that the resulting reduction in school suspensions nationwide fueled classroom disorder and campus violence.
Pollack is firmly in the latter camp, claiming that the DCL was meant to ‘threaten and coerce’.
‘Hundreds of school districts serving millions of students were directly pressured, and many more adopted them for fear of investigation or just because fighting the “school-to-prison pipeline” by decreasing suspensions, expulsions and arrests was the new, politically correct thing to do,’ he writes.
Pollack blames President Barack Obama’s administration for the spread of ‘anti-discipline policies’ like the ones he believes caused the Parkland shooting. Under Obama (pictured in 2014) the Department of Justice and Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights urged districts to revise their disciplinary policies in an effort to stop the school-to-pipeline
Pollack asserts that those policies prevented Broward officials from taking more drastic action against Cruz earlier on, action he believes would have prevented the shooting.
‘About a year before the shooting that took my daughter’s life, [Cruz] was finally expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. But by then it was too late,’ he writes.
‘Our schools are funneling disturbed students into normal classrooms and systematically covering up their misbehavior by design.’
Pollack says his new life mission is to educate parents and push for policy change.
He notes that while President Donald Trump rolled back the Obama-era leniency policies at the national level, real change has to come from the local level.
In the op-ed he tells parents: ‘Talk to your teachers to find out what’s really going on. Is there a kid in your child’s classroom who everyone knows shouldn’t be? Are principals sweeping problems under the rug?’
‘If teachers tell you that these policies are causing problems, talk to your school board members and push back against them. The only way to keep kids safe at school is for parents to get informed, get involved and fix it.’
Pollack says his new life mission is to educate parents on school discipline and push for policy change. The conservative activist and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump is pictured at an event in April 2019
Pollack chronicled all of his findings about the shooting in his new book, ‘Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students’.
On Monday he released an excerpt which breaks down Cruz’s never-before-seen educational records.
The records show that the Broward County school district became aware of Cruz’s obsession with guns and murder years before the massacre, but deficient policy protocols prevented officials from doing anything about it.
Pollack and Eden’s book includes accounts from many of Cruz’s former teachers and classmates who said they were not surprised to hear that he had carried out such a heinous attack.
They described him as a disruptive student who enjoyed jumping around corners to scare fellow students and often boasted about killing animals, beginning when he was at Westglades Middle School.
When Westglades staff learned about the shooting several years after Cruz was gone, they expressed shock that he had even been enrolled at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), given their efforts to get him into a specialized school.
The book includes notes taken by Cruz’s eighth-grade language teacher, Carrie Yon, who conducted a ‘Functional Behavioral Analysis’ for the student as part of the entry requirements to the specialized school.
Several of the notes recorded between September and November of 2013 contain clear evidence of his obsession with guns, murder and death.
Pollack and Eden’s book includes accounts from many of Cruz’s former teachers and classmates who said they were not surprised to hear that he had carried out such a heinous attack. Cruz is seen above in an undated yearbook photo
Records from a middle school psychiatrist who monitored Cruz in eighth grade include several mentions of his obsession with guns and murder. Cruz shared the photo above on Instagram
After a lengthy application process, in February 2014 Cruz was enrolled in Cross Creek, a specialized school with 150 students in grades K-12.
His first few months at the school were tumultuous, but he calmed down by the fall of 2014.
In April of 2015 Cruz told his school psychiatrist, Dr Nyrma Ortiz, that he wanted to join MSD’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Core program.
Dr Ortiz wrote in her notes: ‘interested in [J]ROTC? — not advised . . . Discussed the safety of others/himself.’
However, the following month, Cruz’s ‘Child Study Team’ unanimously recommended that he spend two class periods at MSD during the 2015-16 school year.
One of those classes was JROTC – a program that allowed him to practice shooting with an air gun shaped like an AR-15, the very weapon he would later purchase and use to slaughter 17 classmates.
At the end of the excerpt, Pollack and Eden wrote: ‘This may sound astonishing. But it was all according to policy.
‘The official review of Nikolas Cruz’s educational history registered no objections to anything you just read.’
Broward County school district officials have staunchly denied having done anything to promote the shooting.
Cruz, now 20, is facing a minimum of life in prison without parole, and the Florida state attorney is seeking the death penalty against him.
Cruz, now 20, is facing a minimum of life in prison without parole. The Florida state attorney is seeking the death penalty against him. He is pictured in August 2018
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Pollack founded Meadow’s Movement, which advocates for increased school security to prevent future school massacres.
Unlike the majority of Parkland advocates, Pollack is a vocal supporter of the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump and has defended a controversial plan to arm school teachers.
Pollack’s daughter Meadow (pictured) was one of the 17 people slain in the Parkland shooting. She was 18 years old
He made headlines in February 2018 when he appeared at the White House with his sons to meet with Trump and delivered an emotionally charged speech, saying he was ‘pissed’ and demanding that politicians protect America’s school children at all costs.
Three months after the shooting, Pollack filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Deputy Scot Peterson, the armed school security guard who stood outside the building as kids were massacred inside.
During court proceedings this summer, Pollack said he would have never sent his daughter to MSD had he known about Cruz and the dangers he posed.
‘They had to frisk him every day. They knew that he was a threat. And they subjected all the kids and my daughter to this. Where were their rights?’ Pollack told South Florida Sun-Sentinel in July.
‘They didn’t tell us that they’re letting a kid in the school that he’s so violent and dangerous we won’t let him in with his backpack and we have to frisk him. But they let this kid into the school with our children.’
FULL EXCERPT FROM PARKLAND DAD’S ‘WHY MEADOW DIED’
Below is the full excerpt from ‘Why Meadow Died’, which can be pre-ordered here.
When staff at Westglades Middle School heard that Nikolas Cruz had committed the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, some couldn’t believe it. The fact that he was a mass murderer wasn’t what surprised them, but rather the fact that he had attended that school.
‘How is that possible?’ one Westglades educator recalled thinking. ‘We did our jobs. It took forever, but we got him [to the specialized school] where he needed to go. We couldn’t believe they ever let him into [Stoneman].’
Westglades students and staff had never seen anyone like Nikolas Cruz. One student, Paige, recalled the time that she met Cruz. They were standing outside their classroom waiting for their teacher to open the door, and Cruz offered her a hug, which Paige accepted. Their teacher later pulled Paige aside and warned her, ‘Don’t touch him. He just got caught jerking off.’
If something frustrated Cruz, he would curse and threaten anyone nearby. He would hide behind corners and doors, jump out and scream at people, and then cackle at their fear. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he would burst into maniacal laughter.
‘Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students’, by Andrew Pollack and Max Eden, will be released on Tuesday, September 10
Another student, Sarah, recalled a time when he threw his chair across a classroom. Later, she saw him sitting outside the classroom with his desk tied down.
Cruz’s torture and killing of animals became a source of pride for him as he interacted with other students. One student, Devin, recalled that, although he tried to avoid Cruz, Cruz would approach him almost every day and ask, ‘Would you like to see videos of me skinning animals?’ Devin always declined, but Cruz kept asking.
Cruz’s records suggest that his reign of terror at Westglades Middle School began halfway through his seventh-grade year, in February of 2013. For the next calendar year, Cruz was suspended every other day. Why did the school allow him to remain enrolled despite his daily, deranged behavior for a full year? Not by negligence, but by policy.
Students with disabilities are supposed to be educated in the ‘least restrictive environment’ possible, regardless of whether their disability is that they’re dyslexic or a psychopath, and the paperwork requirements to send them to a specialized school can take many months.
Cruz’s eighth-grade language-arts teacher, Carrie Yon, kept diligent notes on his behavior for Cruz’s ‘Functional Behavior Analysis’:
Sept. 3: While reviewing [a] homophones worksheet, when another student mentioned the amendment that talks about ‘the right to bear arms’ Nick [sic] lit up when hearing the word that related to guns and shouted out ‘you mean like guns!’ he was overly excited thinking that we were going to talk about guns. Nick later used his pencil as a gun . . . shooting around the classroom.
Sept. 4: Nick drew naked stick figures (showing body parts, sexual) and drew pictures of people shooting each other with guns.
Sept. 11: After discussing and lecturing about the Civil War in America Nick became fixated on the death and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He asked inappropriate questions and was making shooting actions with his pencil. Some questions he asked were ‘What did it sound like when Lincoln was shot? Did it go pop pop or pop pop pop really fast? Was there blood everywhere? After the war what did they do with all the bodies? Did people eat them?’
Sept. 16: When we began to read the Odyssey Nick paid partial attention (in-and-out) until we came up to the gruesome scene when the giant eats Odysseus’ crew members, only then Nick was interested in the lesson and got my 100% attention.
Sept. 27: Another student also informed me (once Nick was escorted out of class) that Nick asks him all of the time ‘How am I still at this school?’
Oct. 1: When talking about figurative language and onomatopoeias, Nick shouted out ‘Like a gun shooting.’ Nick will find any excuse to bring up shooting guns or violence . . . He got frustrated and said ‘I hate security, I hope they die.’ Then he stated to me, ‘F- -k you.’ I called security to pick him up immediately.
Oct. 15: Spoke to his mother . . . We discussed that he should not be playing violent video games and that he should be put in a different school that can help with his behavior and emotional issues. We also discussed his obsession with guns/violence. She stated that he is interested in buying a BB gun from Walmart and was asking his mom, repeatedly, if he could get the gun, promising that he would ‘just shoot at trees.’
Oct. 17: Nick began reading the last couple of pages out to the students, intentionally trying to ruin the book for everyone else. I asked him to stop and he told me that he dislikes the book and then he stated, ‘I like guns’ can we talk about that. Then he continued to read the book out loud again.
On Oct. 24, Assistant Principal Antonio Lindsay came to class to observe Cruz. As soon as Lindsay left the room, Cruz yelled, ‘Yes, now I can talk!’ He continued to be disruptive, and Yon said, ‘I know that you can behave. I have seen you. You’re a good kid.’ Cruz shouted, ‘I’m a bad kid! I want to kill!’
Ms. Yon provided her opinion for the ‘Functional Behavioral Analysis’:
‘I feel strongly that Nikolas is a danger to the students and faculty at this school. I do not feel that he understands the difference between his violent video games and reality. He is constantly showing aggressive behavior and poor judgment. His drawing in class show violent acts (people shooting at each other) or creepy sexual pictures (dogs with large penises) . . . I would like to see him sent to a facility that is more prepared and has the proper setting to deal with this type of child.’
On Sept. 13, 2013, Lindsay e-mailed teachers to inform them that if Cruz ‘needs to leave the class to use the restroom, go to the clinic, or any other reason please notify the front office and wait for a security escort. Under no circumstances should Nickolas [sic] be allowed to leave a supervised setting without an escort.’
In October, Lindsay sent a follow-up e-mail informing teachers that moving forward, ‘Cruz will be ‘shadowed’ by his mother when he chooses to run/walk out of class in ‘his attempts’ of avoiding getting into trouble.’ Teachers were advised to call security in secret by sending a student to the office on another pretext.
On Nov. 4, after two months of gathering ‘data’ for Cruz’s ‘Functional Behavior Assessment,’ teachers were sent his ‘Positive Behavior Intervention Plan.’ The plan included helpful tips, like:
If Nikolas destroys property at a lower level,
- Calmly let him know he has not followed one of the expectations.
- Remind him what he is working for.
- Prompt him to use a cool down pass and walk away to diffuse [sic] the situation.
If Nikolas engages in major disruption/property destruction,
- Let Nikolas know, ‘you’re getting too loud. I need for you to get back into control by using a cool down pass or calming down at your desk. If you get back into control, you can stay in class. If you continue, I’ll need for you leave [sic].’
- Walk away and do not pay attention to his behavior.
- Do not argue with Nikolas or engage with him.
- When class is over, Nikolas needs to go to his next class and behavior plan should re-set with able to [sic] earn reward breaks again.
Teachers were required to implement this plan for at least six weeks until Cruz could become eligible for further evaluation. In late November, Cruz attempted to commit suicide at school by running into oncoming traffic. But that did not accelerate the process.
School administrators classified the incident as ‘minor disruption,’ and Cruz remained enrolled at Westglades for another three months. As Ms. Yon’s records show, even Cruz couldn’t understand why they kept him there for so long.
Cruz enrolled in Cross Creek, a specialized school serving 150 students in grades K-12, in February of 2014. For the first semester, his behavior remained much the same. Dr. Nyrma Ortiz, a psychiatrist who consults with Cross Creek, noted, ‘He goes to YouTube to research wars, military material, and terrorist topics. Wears military related items before he goes to school. Parent stated that all of these ideas are related to his excessive gaming.’ When prompted to describe a perfect summer, Cruz wrote, ‘Buying some type of gun and shooting at targets that I set up with large amounts of ammo just for fun for hours.’
Shortly before summer break, Ortiz and Cruz’s therapist Rona Kelly took the extremely unusual step of writing to his private psychiatrist:
Dear Dr. Negin,
We are witting [sic] you with his mother’s consent, to inform you of some of the behavioral problems he continues to display at home and school. Nikolas continues to present with extreme mood liability. He is usually very irritable and reactive. In school he displays oppositional and defiant behaviors and has become verbally aggressive in the classroom. He seems to be paranoid and places the blame on others for his behavioral problems. He has a preoccupation with guns and the military and perseverates on this topic inappropriately. At home, he continues to be aggressive and destructive with minimal provocation. For instance, he destroyed his television after loosing [sic] a video game that he was playing. Nikolas has a hatchet that he uses to chop up a dead tree in his backyard. Mom has not been able to locate that hatchet as of lately [sic]. When upset he punches holes in the walls and has used sharp tools to cut up the upholstery on the furniture and carve holes in the walls of the bathroom. Per recent information shared in school he dreams of killing others and [being] covered in blood. He has been assessed for the need of hospitalization in school and by the YES team from Henderson Behavioral Health . . . We would like you to be aware of the current concerns since you will see him for medication management during the summer and may need to re-assess his respond [sic] to the current medications. In our opinion his response to medications has been limited at best.
The next fall, Kelly called Cruz’s mom and ‘shared concerns with parent about obsession with guns/military and his poor anger control. He continues to deploy aggressive behaviors at home. Parent was advised against getting him a gun (pellet) or [shooting] classes for his birthday. Parent advised to restrict access to any weapons.’
When Cruz’s teachers were asked what he was interested in or enjoyed, almost every single one mentioned guns, the military, or war.
But from October onwards, Cruz appears to have calmed down for a few months, and that was enough to earn him a ticket to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In April, he told Dr. Ortiz that he wanted to enroll in the high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Core program.
Ortiz recorded, ‘interested in [J]ROTC? — not advised . . . Discussed the safety of others/himself.’
But the next month, every member of Cruz’s ‘Child Study Team’ recommended that he be mainstreamed for two class periods a day at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year: for one class to be determined and JROTC.
Nikolas Cruz couldn’t possibly have made himself any clearer. Broward schools staff knew exactly who and what he was. Yet they not only allowed him to enroll in Marjory Stoneman Douglas, they literally gave him an air gun, shaped like an AR-15, and let him practice shooting.
This may sound astonishing. But it was all according to policy. The official review of Nikolas Cruz’s educational history registered no objections to anything you just read.
Excerpt obtained via The New York Post