Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended four members of the Broward County school board Friday, following a report from a grand jury investigating the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting that killed 17 people.
In a statement accompanying his executive order, DeSantis said, “It is my duty to remove people from office when there is clear evidence of incompetence, dereliction of duty, misdemeanor or misdemeanor.”
The suspensions were the second high-profile move this week against officials running schools where mass shootings took place. On Wednesday, the police chief of Uvalde, Texas, public schools was fired after the May shooting at Robb Elementary School, which killed 19 children and two teachers.
In the Florida case, 14 students and three staff members were murdered on February 14, 2018. The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty and is on trial to determine whether he should receive the death penalty.
The grand jury began meeting 15 months after the shooting. In a 122 page report released last Friday, it recommended the suspensions of Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich Levinson, the school board chairman. A former board member, Rosalind Osgood, was also targeted, but she has since been elected to the state senate.
Murray and Levinson would resign from office at the end of the year. Korn qualified this week for a second round in November. Good’s term expires in 2024.
DeSantis will run for re-election in November against Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who is now a Democratic congressman. It is widely believed that DeSantis has his eye on a prize bigger than the governor’s mansion: the White House, as the Republican nominee in 2024.
When the report was released, Levinson denounced a “political hatchet job” that she says was orchestrated by DeSantis.
“It’s dirty party politics,” Levinson said. “He should be ashamed of himself.”
DeSantis is a Republican, but Broward is a Democratic stronghold. DeSantis fired Broward Sheriff Scott Israel after taking office in January 2019, saying his lack of leadership contributed to the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
Levinson pointed to the parents of victims who stood by DeSantis when he announced the incorporation and said the grand jury should focus on the cause of the shooting.
“It’s disgusting on the backs of these families to have a grand jury bait and switch,” she said. “Most of the report has nothing to do with Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”
Korn said that “although I respect the grand jury process, I am on my record”.
The school board has nine members. Two, Debra Hixon and Lori Alhadeff, were chosen after Hixon’s husband, Chris, and Alhadeff’s daughter, Alyssa, were murdered at Stoneman Douglas.
Stand with Parkland, a group representing the families of most of the victims, said the grand jury report “proves what we already suspected – acts of incompetence, negligence and cover-up and a school board [that] is not willing to face the facts”.
Stand with Parkland chairman Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was murdered, had called on DeSantis to remove the four board members.
On Friday, DeSantis said, “We are grateful to the judges who have devoted countless hours to this mission, and we hope this suspension takes the Parkland community another step toward justice. This action is in the best interest of the residents and students of Broward County and all residents of Florida.”
Robert Runcie, the Broward public school superintendent at the time of the shooting, resigned last year after being charged with lying to the grand jury. He has pleaded not guilty.
The grand jury said Runcie and the board members made “uninformed or even misinformed decisions” and engaged in “incompetent management and lack of meaningful oversight,” leading to cost overruns and delays in a school safety and education program that was launched in 2014. was approved by the voters.
DeSantis announced the suspensions, citing the report that “students are still being educated in unsafe, outdated, dilapidated, moldy buildings that would have been renovated years ago.”
He said: “These are unforgivable actions by school board members who have shown a pattern of encouraging unacceptable behavior, including fraud and mismanagement, across the district.”
Four new members were appointed.
The Associated Press contributed coverage.