FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Broward County schools officials in general properly handled the special-needs education of troubled Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, according to an independent report released late Friday on the orders of a judge.
The 70-page report , much of which is heavily redacted under privacy rules, concludes that during Cruz’s 16 years in the school system the correct decisions were made in most instances under programs for students with learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
“Available evidence indicates that, with isolated exceptions, the district adhered to procedural and substantive requirements when implementing this student’s exceptional education program,” says the report by Collaborative Educational Network Inc. and commissioned by the Broward school board.
Release of the report came after Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer overruled defense objections that the report paints a misleading portrait of Cruz’s longstanding psychological problems, many of which have already been disclosed. Scherer said all of Cruz’s actual educational records are among 27 pages of redacted material, which are exempt from disclosure.
“I do find there is nothing in the redacted report … that would interfere with the administration of justice and the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Scherer said.
Attorneys for media organizations including The Associated Press argued the report had to be disclosed under Florida’s broad public records laws.
Cruz, 19, faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His attorneys have said he will plead guilty if guaranteed a life prison sentence, but prosecutors have rejected that offer.
The report focused on two instances during Cruz’s schooling where state law or the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not followed. These involved a requirement that consent be obtained from either a parent or an adult student before placement in an alternative school and an improper response by school officials when Cruz requested special services after having them revoked several months earlier.
The exact details of these violations were not provided, but the report makes recommendations on such things as training to make sure the proper procedures are followed and consider “all possible scenarios” in what can be emotionally charged meetings. A number of other general recommendations for improvement of the handling of students like Cruz were also listed.
“We accept the recommendations regarding procedural improvements, and are pleased with the overall review, recommendations and findings. We are actively reviewing our policies and procedures, training protocols and data systems in an effort to implement the recommendations in a timely and effective way,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said in a statement.
Defense attorney David Frankel said the independent report appears crafted to defend against civil claims filed by victims’ families, by attempting to show that Cruz’s mental problems did not rise to a level that caused great concern. That could affect jurors considering Cruz’s guilt and his sentence at a criminal trial.
“It gives the misperception that somehow he didn’t have psychological issues that were that important,” Frankel said. “This was a broken and damaged person from the get-go. They want to ignore that.”
School board attorney Debra Klauber said officials there believe the report is public record that should be released but took no position on its implications for Cruz’s trial. Media attorney Dana McElroy said it does not qualify for any of the exemptions that apply in a criminal case.
“This is not the kind of record that this court has the ability to review,” McElroy said.
The Cruz school report is the latest of several court battles involving media organizations, the school board, prosecutors and defense lawyers over release of evidence and other material related to the Feb. 14 mass shooting. Previous requests to unseal video showing the law enforcement response outside the school and Cruz’s post-arrest statement to detectives are under appeal.
By CURT ANDERSON
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