South Florida lawmakers show support for embattled Broward County superintendent

Families of MSD shooting victims call for community to vote out school leaders

By Madeleine Wright - Reporter, Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - As the calls for Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie to be fired persist in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, some South Florida lawmakers are standing with the embattled head of the school district.

Florida Reps. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, and Bobby Dubose, D-Fort Lauderdale, organized a news conference Tuesday morning in support of Runcie.

About 25 people, including other state officials, business leaders and educators also joined Jones and Dubose for the #StandWithRuncie event outside the school district administration building.

"Superintendent Runcie is the most innovative school superintendent in the United States. It would be a tragic loss for this community if he were ever to consider leaving," Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, said.

Runcie has come under fire in the wake of an investigation that found that the district missed opportunities to help Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman Nikolas Cruz before the shooting happened.

Supporters said Runcie is being used as a political scapegoat and said he shouldn't be blamed for the Feb. 14 shooting. 

They touted Runcie's leadership and ability to help turn around failing schools in the last seven years he has been at the helm of Broward County Public Schools, and for encouraging diversity and inclusion.

"It's easy for many to sit behind Twitter and Facebook and criticize our superintendent," Jones said. "But have called the superintendent's office for a one-on-one conversation to figure out ways that we can ensure that this never happens again?"

Supporters said that Runcie has been working to help the community overcome the tragedy and to make sure that a shooting like the one in Parkland never happens again. 

"When we look at what happened on Feb. 14, it was one person that unfortunately went in and took the lives of 17 other kids. So to blame Mr. Runcie and to blame this school board for it is not right," Dr. Rosalind Osgood, who holds the District 5 seat on the Broward County school board, said.

Parents and spouses of the 14 students and three staff members who were killed in the mass shooting aren't convinced, however, that Runcie and other school board leaders have what it takes to move the district forward in a positive direction at this point and ensure that all students and employees are safe at their schools. 

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina, 14, was killed in the shooting and who is now running for the District 8 seat on the Broward County school board, spoke at another news conference last week, where he said other counties and school districts in Florida have stepped up far better than in Broward County to increase school security. 

"Polk County acted quickly to enforce the Aaron Feiss guardian program. It had over 600 applicants. They've got two classes that have graduated and they'll have a guardian in every school in Polk County," Petty said.

He also credited Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho with seeking out law enforcement agencies to assist with school security. 

"He pulled the mayors and chiefs of police out of every community in Miami-Dade County and he said, 'We have a responsibly to protect the children in our schools. We don't have the budget to do that ourselves in Miami-Dade schools, so we're going to look to you to help us solve that problem,'" Petty said. 

The father of Parkland school shooting victim Meadow Pollack, 18, called Runcie a "flip-flopper" for his response to the mass shooting. 

"From the beginning, the superintendent flip-flopped to the whole county in Broward. He was deceitful. There were school board meetings where he called it 'fake news' when people stood up and asked him about the crimes that 181958 committed," Andrew Pollack said, refusing to name the gunman. "He said 'fake news' when we asked him about the PROMISE program and then, only to find out a month later, he was in the PROMISE program and he never even showed up when he went into the PROMISE program."

Relatives of the victims also expressed their outrage about the lack of accountability from the school board following the shooting, saying at least one member even touted the 2017-18 school year as the best one yet in Broward County.

"This morning, I attended the state of the district address, where our school board member Donna Korn stood up in front of all district administrators and said that last year was an amazing year. In fact, she said it was the best year in Broward schools," April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen, 16, was killed in the massacre, said on Thursday.

Schentrup held back tears as she continued, "Being an employee of the school district and a mother who has endured such tragedy, it was difficult to hear those words."

The families of the Parkland school shooting victims have called for the community to vote out Broward County Public School leaders in the primary election.

It appears Runcie has the full support of the school board, although five seats are up for grabs, which could spell uncertainty for the superintendent.

 

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