The Phoenix Flyer

Lawsuit alleges Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission violated open meeting laws

By: - January 17, 2020 2:15 pm
One Year Anniversary Parkland tragedy

A memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following the mass shooting on February 14, 2018, in Parkland. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In what began as criticisms of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission – set up to review school safety following the 2018 Parkland mass shooting– has now led to a lawsuit.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit this week, on behalf of groups and individuals, including students, claiming that the commission prevented Florida students from speaking — violating Florida’s open meetings laws.

The incident occurred at the commission’s public meeting October 15-16, 2019, at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, described in the lawsuit as a secluded “Four Diamond” resort and golf destination.

“These advocates wanted to provide a voice the Commission has ignored—that of the very students it was created to protect,” states the lawsuit filed this week in Leon County Circuit Court.

“They planned to explain to the Commission how the policies it has recommended make Florida’s students less, not more, safe, to ask the Commission to reconsider its initial recommendations, and to influence 2020 legislative recommendations about which the Commission was meeting.”

In addition, the commission meeting was held at “remote resort from transportation,” with parking rates between $18 and $32 – significant barriers for the public, according to the lawsuit.

Then, the commission publicly announced before and throughout the meeting that it would take public comments at 4:45 p.m. on October 16. “But then suddenly announcing at 2:00 p.m. that day that it would instead take comments immediately from only those present at that time and adjourn long before 4:45.”

“These actions were illegal,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: March for our Lives Florida; Florida Student Power Network; Dream Defenders; Kinsey Akers, through her next friends Charlie and Kirsten Akers; Aryana Brown, through her next friend Cassandra Brown, David Caicedo, Courtney Peters, and Christopher Zoeller.

The defendants are: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission; Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, in his official capacity as commission chair, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, the head of FDLE and a commission voting member.

Prior to the lawsuit, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote a letter to the commission, alerting the chairman and members that the group had violated public meeting laws.

And earlier, SPLC raised concerns in a report about the troubling makeup of the commission, “dangerous” recommendations on school safety, and other criticisms.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.