FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (TCA) — Ty Thompson, the principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is under investigation and will have a new job at the Parkland school.
It’s the latest in a string of administrative shake-ups since a former student murdered 17 people at the school last Feb. 14. Stoneman Douglas added a second principal last spring and transferred three assistant principals in November to jobs while investigating their roles in the massacre.
Now Thompson, who has led the school since 2013, will give up day-to-day operations while he, too, is being investigated. He will instead oversee recovery efforts as well as construction plans for a new building to replace the one where the shooting happened. Those duties had been handled by former West Broward Principal Teresa Hall, who will take over Thompson’s old job.
The district also is bringing back the school’s former principal. Dan Traeger, to provide “additional oversight and support,” district spokeswoman Kathy Koch said. He led the school from 2001 until 2008, when he left to open West Broward High. While at West Broward, he hired Hall as an assistant principal. She replaced him after he retired in 2013.
Traeger’s education certificate expired in June, making him ineligible under state law to be a principal or assistant principal. It’s unclear whether the certificate is needed for his new role with the district. Neither Traeger nor district officials could be reached for comment about that issue.
Thompson is the fifth administrator at the school to be investigated for actions related to the massacre. In November, Superintendent Robert Runcie transferred Assistant Principals Denise Reed, Winfred Porter and Jeff Morford and security specialist Kevin Greenleaf to jobs outside the school, pending an investigation into their roles. The district hired the law firm Cole, Scott, Kissane in January to conduct the review. The investigations are expected to be finished by the end of the school year, Koch said.
Runcie said in December that he had removed the assistant principals from the schools so that teachers could speak freely to investigators without fear of retribution from their supervisors.
But district administrators decided that keeping Thompson at the school “to be in the best interest of the students and teachers,” Koch said. “Since the tragedy, Thompson has provided stability to the school and community, and has been considered by many to be instrumental in helping with healing and recovery.”
Students are on spring break through next week, and when they return in April, they’ll get ready for testing, Broward School Board member Lori Alhadeff said.
“While I would support him being removed during the investigation, I think it could have a negative impact on the teachers and students right before testing,” said Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at Stoneman Douglas.
The district hasn’t listed any specific allegations on any of the administrators, only that the investigation is based on findings from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which reviewed what went wrong during the tragedy. Among the commission’s findings: School gates and doors weren’t properly secured; security officials received little to no training; emergency procedures weren’t followed; previous crimes hadn’t been properly reported; and many warning signs were missed.
Thompson was not at school at the time of the shooting, but the commission still admonished him, saying he appeared uninformed about threats and other student safety matters.
Teachers were told about Thompson at a staff meeting Thursday afternoon. Several said they left confused and frustrated that turmoil at the school continues more than a year after the shooting.
The investigation into Thompson is “another blow to our school environment. The hits keep coming,” English teacher Felicia Burgin said.
“He wasn’t there the day of the shootings, but he gets thrown under the bus. It’s not like he was neglecting his job,” she said.
Burgin said Thompson and other administrators are being blamed for policies written by Runcie and the School Board.
Thompson couldn’t be reached Tuesday, but the investigation surprised him, said Lisa Maxwell, who represents him through the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association. She said Runcie met with him in December and said he wouldn’t be investigated and wouldn’t be removed from the school.
“They’re making his stuff up as they go along. There is no rhyme or reason to this. It’s a sham,” Maxwell said. “Runcie caved once again to political pressure. He doesn’t know how to defend his people.”
District officials couldn’t be reached Thursday afternoon to comment about Maxwell’s claims.
The administrator group has filed a lawsuit against the district claiming the assistant principals are being unfairly investigated and will do the same for Thompson, Maxwell said.
Many family members of victims had been critical of Runcie for the slow progress at holding school officials accountable for the tragedy. In the first nine months after the tragedy, no one was disciplined except two low-paid security monitors who were fired.
“It’s about time!!” Alhadeff said in a text to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
But many teachers at the school have supported Thompson and the assistant principals. When Burgin heard district administrators would be meeting with staff Thursday, she hoped it was to announce the other administrators were returning.
Although the district has replaced the assistant principals, the shake-up “left the school much more vulnerable than we were a year ago,” Burgin said. “There is no emotional support for teachers. We feel completely not supported.”
©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.