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School District of Palm Beach County faces scrutiny in grand jury report on school safety

District leaders criticized over handling of training for school safety officers at charter schools
A Florida grand jury report into school safety, Sept. 7, 2022.jpg
Posted at 3:07 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-07 17:15:54-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — New details are emerging about a grand jury report focused on school safety in Florida and what it's revealed about the School District of Palm Beach County.

The report led to state education leaders visiting Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke on Sept. 2.

Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County speaks to WPTV on Oct. 5, 2021.jpg
Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County speaks to WPTV on Oct. 5, 2021.

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The grand jury was convened after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 to take a closer look at school safety statewide.

The report primarily focused on Broward County and led to the suspension of four school board members there.

But it also mentioned a few other large school districts — including Palm Beach County — for a variety of reasons.

Among the more than 120 pages of a grand jury report examining school safety, about five pages focused on the School District of Palm Beach County and how district leaders handled training for school safety officers who would work at charter schools.

In 2019, the school district hired a private security firm called Invictus to do the training.

But a state panel determined the company's training did not meet the guidelines required by law. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office agreed and ended up doing the training itself.

WATCH: Palm Beach County School Board cuts ties with security guard training program

Palm Beach County School Board cuts ties with security guard training program

In the newly released report, the grand jury slammed what it called a waste of taxpayer money through a "failed program that did not produce any qualified SSOs," and said "it is clear to this grand jury that there was a critical lack of communication and cooperation between SDPBC and PBSO regarding the implementation of SSOs on charter school campuses."

"SDPBC's decision to bring on a private vendor and the subsequent fallout resulted in a great deal of confusion, unnecessary expense and, eventually, litigation," the report added.

The report led the Florida Department of Education's Office of Safe Schools to send a letter to Palm Beach County school district leaders on Aug. 29, requesting an in-person meeting to investigate "major concerns."

READ: Florida Department of Education's letter to Palm Beach County

Burke, who took over as superintendent of the tenth-largest school district in America last year, responded with a letter of his own on Aug. 30, acknowledging the request for a meeting.

"We are sure that you will find that you will find that the School District of Palm Beach County takes the safety of our students, employees, and community seriously and that we actively take steps to enhance and secure our campuses, as well as collaborate with local law enforcement for District-wide protection," Burke wrote.

READ: Superintendent's letter to Florida Department of Education

That meeting happened in Palm Beach County on Sept. 2.

Burke then sent a follow-up letter to the state the same day, recapping the safety initiatives in the district and acknowledging that "this work is never finished as we strive to continuously enhance safety measures and further harden our campuses."

READ: Superintendent's follow-up letter to Florida Department of Education

The grand jury report recommended the removal of four Broward County School Board members, saying they mismanaged a multi-million-dollar bond designed for school safety and other initiatives.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis followed through on that recommendation, suspending those board members last month.

There was no such recommendation from the grand jury when it came to the School District of Palm Beach County or Palm Beach County School Board.

To read the full grand jury report, click here.