How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids, part 2: "Unacceptable" funding means "unacceptable" staffing and "unacceptable" protection
This is a very important passage from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas report.
Key sentence: "Unlocked and opened gates were regularly unstaffed for long periods of time on the MSDHS campus. School administrators cited a lack of personnel as the explanation for the unstaffed open gates. This explanation is unacceptable."
The possibilities that Kelli Stargel kills
First, this passage lays out the potential for a smart expansion of Polk's uniformed Guardian program. For those of you who don't know, our Guardian program is a compromise that provides our elementary schools with a layer of uniformed, armed protection and helps us comply with state law. (Our middle and high schools already have school resource officers.)
Polk's Guardian Program does not arm existing teachers or staff who have teaching or disciplinary duties. We had a robust public discussion about that. And we chose to create new positions, gave them distinctive uniforms, and gave them active shooter response training through the Polk Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Judd's office and our HR staff did yeoman work getting these roles staffed and trained in time for the opening of the school year.
The elementary Guardians patrol the grounds, monitor who is coming and going, etc. The response from the elementary schools has been good. The kids and adults seem to like having them around. I suspect it's a very boring job most of the time; but I hope, in complying with the state, that we've provided a layer of deterrence, although I suspect it's mostly theater.
I would be open to expanding the Guardian program to secondary schools -- middle and high schools -- if the Guardians were used to staff and control access points all day, as mentioned above in the MSD report. And if they had no disciplinary, investigative, or instructional duties to distract them. In this way, they would be little different than the police we hire for crowd control for big athletic events. That would balance the armed staff safety risk equation that I have written about at length, most recently here.
However, I'd prefer that we follow the urging of my Polk School Board colleague Sarah Fortney: provide a social worker to every one of our schools. I think that would be money better spent.
But I assure you, there is no money for either expansion. Kelli Stargel has seen to that. Moreover, there is no pipeline of mental health services and social workers from which to hire. That is also something Kelli Stargel has seen to in her long, long history of quiet destruction far away from scrutiny in Tallahassee.
Taking money away from counselors and guardians and giving it to Pastor Tigers
In Polk, we already spent more than Tally gave us on Guardians for elementary schools, which are the least urgent risk. Because that's what your not-very-bright Legislature forced us to do it without ever asking us what made most sense. And the money they provided didn't even cover it. We had to pull from non security-law funding.
Now Ron DeSantis and Kelli Stargel want to further reduce the money available by giving your taxpayer money to ridiculous and dangerous voucher schools, which have no oversight, and do not have to comply with any of the security requirements that Tallahassee is imposing on real schools.
Kelli Stargel said Wednesday, of the taxpayer-funded voucher plan she's pushing, "It doesn't oppose public schools in any way." Please. Money equals personnel. And while personnel is no guarantee of effective safety and mental health treatment, I guarantee you can't have either without personnel. Just like the MSD report accidentally makes clear.
There is a reason Stargel is the most anti-teacher, anti-public school legislator in the history of Florida -- and without question the worst legislator of any party or faction that I've dealt with from Polk County in 20 years. This illustrates it yet again. She and DeSantis are much more interested in making sure Pastor Tiger schools get your taxpayer money than they are paying for actual beneficial security upgrades. Period. You are what your record says you are, Kelli and Ron.
And the "unacceptable" part of the MSD excerpt cracks me up.
Yes, it's "unacceptable" that high schools can't staff gates all day because they also have to respond to fights, or emergencies, or attend to the millions of other duties and state-mandates involved in running the small, teen-angsty town that every high school represents. It is completely unacceptable that Kelli Stargel and Rick Scott and the accumulated awfulness of 20 years of public school pillage have left local community districts with any number of personnel Sophie's Choices. Security is just one tiny example. It's unacceptable that the Orlando Sentinel's "Schools without Rules" voucher school report came out 15 months ago warning about molestation in voucher schools -- and that Kelli Stargel and Manny Diaz and Rick Scott did nothing in response to protect voucher kids and parents. It's unacceptable that Pastor Tiger allegedly took that time of no scrutiny to "groom" his victim, according to Polk Sheriff and MSD Commissioner Grady Judd. See full story here.
It's unacceptable that America's worst Legislature built America's worst and most fraudulent education model atop a BS mountain of personal harm inflicted by grift. In a just world, the MSD report and grand jury would ask Kelli Stargel and Manny Diaz why they don't care what happens to Pastor Tiger's kids.
Indeed, all of this is so unacceptable to me that I decided to run for office in 2016 to try to dismantle this malignant structure and create something new and humane and decent.
Many things in this world are unacceptable. Wishing them away does not work. Until we act to meaningfully correct them, all we can do is endure the unacceptable.
A self-contradictory political document designed to deflect Tallahassee's guilt
As I work my way through the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas report, its double nature becomes clearer to me.
The analytical history of mass schools shootings is helpful; and the reported narrative timeline of the attack is an extremely valuable piece of journalism. Everyone should read both. But the findings and recommendations that follow, so far, are almost entirely political. Often, they run directly contrary to common sense interpretation of the reported timeline and history. Let me repeat that. The MSD report draws bad conclusions from its own reporting. I will come back to this in a future article. But one example is the urgent focus on arming elementary schools over the summer. Nothing in the actual MSD report, in the real study of what happened and overall study of school shootings, suggests that was the right priority.
The MSD report is a bad report because it generally wants to protect guns, writ large, and state elected officials, more than it wants to protect kids. Above all, the MSD report aims to exonerate the Florida Legislature and distant state government for its starvation budgets and endless failures in all aspects of public education during the Test-and-Die Era. Squeezing public education further is a bonus.
And the safety of voucher kids? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Not mentioned. Do you think it will be easy for a shooter to walk onto the campus of taxpayer-funded Kingdom Prep, Governor? The MSD commission and your governor legislators don't care, because those kids are generally undercapitalized and without political power or voice.
One can say all this about the report and commission and legislature without endorsing the destructive defensiveness of Broward's response to the shooting. That instinct to cover up and hide from bad news or problems is an endemic problem for Florida school districts, including my own. I will come back to it. It's also a behavioral incentive created by Tallahassee's awfulness.
And I should note the MSD report is very helpful in talking about the abuse of FRPA (federal privacy laws) by districts looking to avoid public scrutiny. I will come back to that, too.
But let me put a marker down now: if this horrible thing ever happens here in Polk, I will, from day one, push to make everything we have as available as possible to the community. I won't let us hide quietly behind overly broad interpretations of confidentiality laws. You will get your chance to judge me in public. Indeed, you can judge me in public now if you want. And we won't be hiring any outside PR help to call grieving, angry parents "crazies." I can do my own PR.
That's why I've been laying out a clear record of my thinking for more than a year.
A non-collaborative, garbage law
But today, I'm focused on state failure, state fraud, and the abject moral weakness of the people who rule us. And here's a very clear example of this Legislative bias in the report.
The Florida legislature included many positive enhancements to school safety in Senate Bill 7026. Some of those enhancements have been implemented, others are still in progress and some seem to have stalled, or even been manipulated or disregarded. Some of these enhancements, once fully implemented, will have a significant positive impact on school safety.
In reality, that law was a dumpster fire of unimplementable nonsense. Start with the fact that it made providing armed security for all elementary schools both mandatory and utterly unaffordable for all districts and communities. And then it created, as a cheap alternative, an "arming teachers program" that specifically excluded teachers from being armed. That left essentially nobody but lunch ladies to arm in elementary schools. It did all of this under a ticking clock deadline.
That is the quality of thought that went into this law. And it went downhill from there.
The mental health stuff is chaos because there isn't a healthy pipeline for mental health services because your terrible Legislative has strangled the Florida mental health system forever, like everything else, to keep taxes low for the Villages and Naples beach homes for out-of-state billionaires.
The only truly helpful piece is the "risk protection order" part. RPOs allow law enforcement to seize household guns based on threatening statements. It's simple and direct. It's by far the most useful tool given to anyone for mass school shooting security. The NRA has squawked about this. But I think that's theater. Restricting gun regulation to RPOs in the aftermath of the shooting was a major political victory for Marion Hammer. She is wise to fake squawk. I would too, if I was her.
To get RPOs, I probably would've voted for that steaming pile of security bill if I was a legislator. But that doesn't mean it's not a steaming pile.
The MSD laws/report don't touch voucher schools; and there is no "Office of Voucher School oversight"
Moreover, none of these laws or mandates touch voucher schools, which Ron DeSantis just declared are public schools. Let me say that again. Ron DeSantis says Kingdom Prep is a public school. But kids in those schools aren't important enough to him -- or anybody else -- to get the MSD treatment.
Like I said, I'm still plowing through the Commission report, but I've searched for "private school" and "private" and found nothing. I don't know any fact that better reveals just how nakedly political the MSD law and report is.
Serious legislators, if any existed, who actually cared about making vouchers work, would start with an oversight system like the state Office of Early Learning that already exists for day care and pre-K. Pre-K in the state is essentially a voucher system, which includes religiously-based day cares.
A serious oversight system would have responsibility for addressing the "Schools without Rules," which form the backbone of the voucher service provider system. Instead, there's nothing. Your Department of Education and Step Up for Students hands kids right over to Pastor Tiger for "grooming," no meaningful questions asked, except by the Pastor. And there's nobody for parents to call but the Sheriff's Office.
Oversight would kill vouchers as even a speculative idea
Despite this, there will never be an "Office of Early Learning" to clean up the Pastor Tiger schools. Why? That relates to the reality of vouchers.
The safe, respectable private schools with institutional heft don't want voucher kids at any scale. Let me say that again: They. don't. want. voucher. kids. They want token scholarships. The parents that pay for fancy private schools pay for exclusivity.
There are exceptions that prove the rule: Academy Prep is aimed entirely at giving undercapitalized kids the kind of exclusive, elite experience that kids at fancy prep schools get. There is an argument to be made for that. But it's massively expensive; the vouchers don't come close to covering the cost; and it can't be replicated at scale. Some egalitarian Catholic schools are also an exception, which reflects the long, brave, and noble history of Catholic educators in Florida, going back to the Sisters of St. Joseph. And their dioceses already provide reasonable oversight. (Voucher opponents would do well not to lean on the Blaine amendment aspects of church/state separation. They weren't about church/state separation; they were about hating Catholics.)
By and large, the parents you see testifying in Tallahassee aren't trying to get their kids into All Saints. They're trying to get their kids into the equivalent of Kingdom Prep. Take a look at this story, written by voucher advocates, to see. The most common profile is a desperate parent with a child with a behavioral problem who gets to disappear from the public radar in a Pastor Tiger school. You think that's safe?
In reality, the Pastor Tiger schools are the real backbone of the voucher service provider system. And they could never stand up to the scrutiny of an "Office of Early Learning." Oversight would destroy the "provider" network, which would destroy vouchers as an idea, because real private schools would not take up the slack.
After reading "School without Rules" and Grady Judd's account of Pastor Tiger at Kingdom Prep, my heart shudders for the kids that Kelli Stargel and Manny Diaz are shoveling into harm. And it bleeds for the mental counselors we might hire to help other kids if Kelli and Manny hadn't killed the mental health system and drained funding for real schools over years and years and years.
Rather than admit or face that, Kelli Stargel wants to feed more kids to Kingdom Prep and Pastor Tiger. Just get 'em off the books because it's cheap; and that's all the voucher kids deserve. And when we get them back in the public schools, neglected or abused, we have fewer resources with which to repair the damage. I really don't how some people sleep at night.
In part 3, I'm going to ask a simple question: which school is safer? Magnolia Montessori or Kingdom Prep? And I'm going to ask why the safety of one them became a public issue a few weeks back. (Here's a hint. It wasn't Kingdom Prep.)
Here is part 1.