DENNIS WARD MONROE STATE ATTYWhat the hell is going on? As a parent, I feel very comfortable using this exact wording to ask this question. In the aftermath of the horrific Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, we must ask ourselves just how far we will let fear push us. The MSD Safety Act means police and armed staff are in our schools and interacting with our children at unprecedented levels.

Recent incidents in Monroe and Orange counties are a shocking reminder that increased police presence in our schools can result in escalating common childhood behaviors to criminal charges that, thanks to obsessive data collection, will become part of a child’s permanent record. This is the highest of stakes.

Protecting our kids isn’t just about active-shooter drills and looking out for bad guys. Real everyday protection means police must be trained and devoted to de-escalating situations in schools. Principals, teachers and staff must possess the professionalism and empathy to recognize that all this talk of being violently killed by unknown AR-15 toting assailants is extremely traumatizing for everyone, especially children.

It’s particularly disturbing that Dennis Ward, the State Attorney from Monroe County is determined to press criminal charges this week against a frightened ten-year-old student at Stanley Switlik Elementary School who everyone agrees had no intent to harm anyone. This little girl put a steak knife in her back pack should “an armed attacker enter the school, she intended on defending herself with the steak knife.”

After discovering the knife, both the school principal and Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes had a golden opportunity to de-escalate and demonstrate wisdom in this situation.  Instead, they punted to State Attorney Dennis Ward who intends to throw the book at this child which will no doubt change the course of her young life leaving her with a stigmatizing permanent record.

What’s worse, Officer Bulnes, made this comment on the official Monroe County Sheriff Facebook page, “I’m also grateful to report that the incident was handled jointly with our law enforcement and community partners who decided what the appropriate criminal measures should be going forward.”

At the moment there are 574 comments on the MSCO-Florida Keys post and 98% of them strongly object to the way State Attorney Dennis Ward, Officer Bulnes and the principal of Stanley Switlik Elementary School have treated this little girl. Let’s hope they come to their senses and try to help this child and all the others they are supposedly “protecting.”

Here’s a sampling of the comments:

Olivia Bivens Wow so you see a fifth grader so scared she wanted to defend herself and think treating her like a criminal for a issue we adults fail to solve is correct? Let’s get some better training going IMMEDIATELY this should be a wake up call not a criminal case!

Amy Gage I am heartbroken and angered as I read this!! This little girl deserves hugs, and love, and reassurance that WE, as adults, will keep her safe; NOT criminal charges!! WE put the knife in that little girls backpack!! WE, who give “thoughts and prayers” each time a school is attacked, with no tangible solution to follow. It is WE that has to change this in 2020!!

Kathy Vereline Sad that our children are scared for their lives every day the go to school. I am scared to see mine go to school. She should be able to have a safe place when she goes to school. Instead she was scared enough to think of defending herself if attacked at school. Counseling should be available for her to learn how to feel safe in school. I can’t believe they are seeking charges\

Rosemarie Jensen This is absolutely ridiculous. You are pressing charges on a 10 year old girl who has heard your messages loud and clear that someone may try to kill her at school. Discipline her but to press charges is insane and indicative of the lack of common sense that rules both the sheriff’s office and the state attorney.

Laura McCrary That poor girl must be scared to death with all the active shooter drills. This makes me sick. My goodness! What do expect young children to do, and what kind of message are we sending them with thinking they aren’t safe in school. Shame on this state attorney. He really needs to visit a classroom active shooter drill for that age group! 😥

Kelli Berndt Lyndon This is an embarrassment to your school and local government. These kids are scared to death of what might happen to them at school. This girl doesn’t deserve any of this action. She’s 10 years old and had zero intent of hurting anyone. I hope the voters remember this when it comes time to vote for a new SA. Pathetic.

Read the entire MSCO – Florida Keys FaceBook post below:

Girl charged with bringing knife to school

A Stanley Switlik Elementary School student was charged with possessing a weapon — a steak knife — on school grounds Friday morning.

There were no injuries.

The 10-year-old girl — a fifth-grader ؅— was showing other students the knife in the cafeteria before classes began at approximately 8 a.m.

The girl told other students that should an armed attacker enter the school, she intended on defending herself with the steak knife.

The girl did not threaten anyone with the knife.

Another student reported this to school officials at the front office.

The school principal and Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes stopped the girl as she was leaving the cafeteria and took her to the front office.

They found the knife in the girl’s backpack. The girl admitted to showing other students the knife and she admitted to telling other students she intended to defend herself with the knife should an armed attacker enter the school.

The Sheriff’s Office notified the State Attorney’s Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Monroe County School District.

The State Attorney’s Office decided to proceed with criminal charges.

The joint decision was made to give the girl a notice to appear in court and not place her in juvenile custody.

The girl was released to the custody of her parents.

“This was an unfortunate incident, but it was handled quickly and professionally by our School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes and school officials,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “I’m grateful this young girl did not threaten anyone and that did not appear to be her intent. I’m also grateful to report that the incident was handled jointly with our law enforcement and community partners who decided what the appropriate criminal measures should be going forward.”

Different reaction at Orlando School 

Last week an Orlando incident made national headlines when a school resource officer at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy charter school, arrested two 6-year-old children. He handcuffed the traumatized kids, perp-walked them out of the school and took them downtown for fingerprints and mugshots.

The charge against the children? Misdemeanor Battery. One of them had a meltdown during which a teacher was struck on the leg. Police have not disclosed details about the second child since Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon dropped all charges against the children and fired Reserve Officer Dennis Turner, saying that “the arrests made him ‘sick to [his] stomach.’ He apologized to the children and their families.”  State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she will not pursue any action against the children and their records will be expunged. “I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline,” Ayala said. “… The criminal process ends here today. The children will not be prosecuted.”

OPD  also moved quickly to change policy, stating that no student under 12 can be arrested without department approval. Records show that Turner retired from OPD in 2018, and according to the Orlando Sentinel, was involved in a 1998 child abuse case “in which Turner, then 37, was arrested by Apopka police after officials found welts and bruises on his 7-year-old son’s arms and chest. Rolón said an OPD internal affairs investigation sustained allegations against Turner and he was disciplined. Court records show the criminal case against Turner was dropped by prosecutors…It was unclear how Turner was allowed to serve as a school resource officer with a record of child abuse.”

According to the Sentinel, State Attorney “Ayala said arresting children as young as 6 is unfortunately not unheard of, noting that Florida remains one of the states with the highest number of child arrests, and that the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, led the state in youth arrests in 2018.  This is not a reflection of the children, but more a reflection of a broken system that is in need of reform.”