Mike Brake | November 8, 2019
Father of Parkland shooting victim says Enid Public Schools’ actions dangerous
The recent action of Enid Public School administrators who fired a school resource police officer for seeking prosecution of at least two students who had threatened classmates sent precisely the wrong signal, nationally known school safety crusader Andrew Pollack has told OCPA.
“With this message that schools should not hold even the most dangerous students accountable spreading throughout the whole country in our public schools, parents would do well to do whatever they can to send their kids to a private or charter school or even homeschool them,” Pollack said.
Pollack’s daughter Meadow was one of the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 18, 2018, when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire. Since then Pollack has become a vocal advocate of tougher school disciplinary policies that could have prevented Cruz from arming himself and from having access to the school—policies starkly different from those being pursued in Enid.
Pollack’s new book, Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies That Created The Parkland Shooter and Endanger America's Students, is an indictment of the kind of lax school disciplinary policies that have spread throughout public education since they were first promoted under the Obama administration.
Pollack has formed a national grassroots organization dubbed CLASS—for Childrens’ Lives and School Safety—which promotes an eight-point series of reforms that would help prevent future school shootings.
Those points include securing school perimeters and entryways with barriers and metal detectors, placing armed security officers and volunteer safety patrols within schools, communicating with parents, creating a reporting hotline to elicit warnings of potential shooters, appointing a district-wide school safety specialist, and boosting mental health services and programs to identify and divert potential shooters.
In the Enid case, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has filed a complaint which is likely the precursor to a lawsuit on behalf of former school system police chief Mike Dods, who said he was warned and ultimately fired for reporting potential student threats to the district attorney.
Pollack said he found that encouraging, given that teacher unions have tended to support the soft school disciplinary codes.
In the first case, Dods arrested a male student who had made multiple threats to female classmates and who had asked a school custodian about door locks and access to the roof. That resulted in a no-contact court order that prohibited the suspect from coming into contact with the female students.
When classes resumed this fall, Dods said the student began violating that order, but school administrators ordered him not to arrest the student or he would be fired. When he did report the violations to the DA, Dods said he was told to “get in line.”
In a second case, Dods said he confronted a student waving scissors and threatening others, but was ordered to take no legal action. When he did forward the case for possible prosecution, he was demoted and then fired.
The Enid cases are disturbingly similar to the many red flags that Cruz raised during his time as a student in Parkland, and which Pollack says resulted in no legal referrals that could have resulted in criminal convictions that could have in turn precluded Cruz from buying the murder weapon.
Cruz committed assaults, made threats and was even caught with bullets in his backpack, but because Broward County Schools had adopted a series of soft disciplinary policies designed to avoid referrals for arrest and prosecution, he was never entered into the criminal justice system.
That disciplinary code that avoided referrals to law enforcement even for incidents that could have been prosecuted as felonies was supposedly designed to curtail the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” that had been decried by former President Barack Obama. As reported in National Review, Broward County schools were among 53 nationally “to adopt Obama-administration guidelines designed in part to limit law-enforcement involvement in school discipline.”
“The sheriff’s office responded to his (Cruz’s) home 40 times,” Pollack said. “If they had locked him up under the Baker Act just once he would have had a record as mentally unstable that would have prevented him from buying that gun. We hear about background checks but what do you do when there is no background to check?”
The Baker Act is model legislation adopted by most states that allows law enforcement and the courts to institutionalize mentally ill people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Pollack said the no-consequences disciplinary codes prevalent in so many schools today “create a chaotic environment. They don’t want to hold these kids accountable because they say it will hurt their chances of being successful as adults.”
As a result, Pollack said, many schools list disruptive and even potentially violent students as special-needs kids and then mainstream them into the student body, as if they merely exhibited signs of dyslexia or autism.
“This hurts teachers,” he said. “It hurts the 99.7 percent of good kids. And it hurts the disruptive students as well.” Those bad actors are thus deprived of the opportunity to learn from the consequences and to have access to needed mental health treatment.
Pollack said California has recently carried the lax discipline philosophy to an illogical conclusion with new legislation that prohibits schools from suspending students at all.
Pollack praised Dods for “doing the righteous thing” and voiced support for Enid High School students who walked out of class in support of the officer.
“Stick to it!” he said, noting that the best weapon against lax disciplinary rules that endanger children is organized parents who will attend local school board meetings. “It’s up to the parents,” he said.
Enid school officials have set a November 14 hearing on Dods’ case. Meanwhile, they threatened the protesting students with suspension and issued a statement that said, “Our greatest priority is the safety of our students and staff.”
They have refused to comment on the substance of Dods’ allegations or the circumstances surrounding his firing.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since publication of this story, Enid Public Schools and Dods have reached an agreement that allowed Dods to return to work at the district.
Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.