Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday suspended four members of the Broward County School Board, acting on a recommendation from a report of a grand jury investigating the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in which 17 people were killed.
In a statement accompanying his executive order, DeSantis said“It is my duty to suspend people from their duties when there is clear evidence of incompetence, dereliction of duty, misconduct or wrongdoing.”
The suspensions were the second high-profile ruling this week against public officials governing schools that have been the scene of mass shootings. On Wednesday, the Uvalde, Texas Public Schools Police Chief, was fired about the Robb Elementary School shooting in May, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed.
In the Florida In this case, 14 students and three staff members were killed on February 14, 2018. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, has pleaded guilty and is on trial to determine whether he should face the death penalty.
The grand jury began meeting 15 months after the shooting. In a 122-page report released last Friday, he recommended the suspensions of Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich Levinson, the school board president. A former board member, Rosalind Osgood, was also targeted, but she has since been elected to the state Senate.
Murray and Levinson were to leave their positions at the end of the year. Korn qualified this week for a runoff in November. Good’s term was due to expire in 2024.
DeSantis will run himself for re-election in November, against Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who is now a Democratic congressman. DeSantis is widely believed to have 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 condemned “political ax work” which she said was orchestrated by DeSantis.
“It’s nasty partisan politics,” Levinson said. “He should be ashamed of himself.”
DeSantis is a Republican, but Broward is a stronghold Democrat. DeSantis fired Broward Sheriff Scott Israel after he took office in January 2019, saying his lack of leadership contributed to the shooting of Stoneman Douglas.
Levinson pointed to the victims’ parents who stood with DeSantis when he announced his formation and said the grand jury was supposed to focus on the causes of the shooting.
“It’s disgusting on the backs of these families to have a grand jury of bait and switch,” she said. “Most of the report has nothing to do with Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”
Korn said that “while I respect the grand jury process, I stand by my case.”
The school board has nine members. Two, Debra Hixon and Lori Alhadeff, were elected after Hixon’s husband, Chris, and Alhadeff’s daughter, Alyssa, were killed at Stoneman Douglas.
Stand with Parkland, a group that represents most of the victims’ families, said the grand jury report “proves what we already suspected – acts of incompetence, negligence and cover-up and a school board [that] does not want to face the facts”.
Stand with Parkland president Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed, had called on DeSantis to remove all four board members.
On Friday, DeSantis said, “We are grateful to the members of the jury who have dedicated countless hours to this mission, and we hope this suspension brings the community of Parkland another step towards justice. This action is in the best interests of Broward County residents and students and all citizens of Florida. »
Broward Public Schools superintendent at the time of the shooting, Robert Runcie, resigned last year after being indicted for lying to the grand jury. He pleaded not guilty.
The grand jury said Runcie and board members made “uninformed or even ill-informed decisions” and were guilty of “incompetent management and lack of meaningful oversight”, resulting in cost overruns and delays in a program of school safety and education approved by voters in 2014.
Announcing the suspensions, DeSantis quoted the report to say that “students continue to be educated in unsafe, aging, decrepit and moldy buildings that were supposed to have been renovated years ago.”
He said, “These are inexcusable actions on the part of school board members that have shown a tendency to embolden unacceptable behavior, including fraud and mismanagement, throughout the district.”
Four new members have been appointed.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.