DeSantis removes Broward school board officials after Parkland report

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) suspended four elected school-board members on Friday, after a grand jury found that they had acted with negligence and incompetence in implementing safety measures at schools in Broward County and recommended their removal.

The grand jury investigation was prompted by a 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people. In its report, released last week, the grand jury said that the Broward school board had mismanaged a program funded by an $800 million bond and failed to deliver on promised projects, including safety upgrades to its schools.

“It is my duty to suspend people from office when there is clear evidence of incompetence, neglect of duty, misfeasance or malfeasance,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are grateful to the members of the jury who have dedicated countless hours to this mission and we hope this suspension brings the Parkland community another step towards justice.”

Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is the country’s sixth-largest school district and is responsible for about 260,000 students. The rare decision to forcibly remove elected officials from office was praised by the families of victims of school violence, but also sparked accusations of political overreach.

DeSantis suspended Patricia Good, Donna P. Korn, Ann Murray, and Laurie Rich Levinson from the board. (The jury also recommended the removal of a fifth board member, who has since been elected to the state Senate.) While school board positions are nonpartisan, all the elected officials DeSantis removed are registered as Democratic voters. Several of their replacements worked in Republican politics.

“What country is this? What Gov. DeSantis did is un-American and undemocratic,” Levinson said, according to the Miami Herald. “Because you may disagree on local policy decisions is not a reason to remove someone from elected office.”

Earlier this month, DeSantis also removed an elected Democratic county prosecutor for refusing to prosecute certain cases related to abortion and gender-affirming care; the official has sued for reinstatement.

DeSantis, who is seen as a possible contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has made a name for himself in conservative circles by intervening in issues such as the teaching of racial and LGBTQ issues in schools. Earlier this week, conservative candidates backing his education agenda triumphed in more than a dozen local contests.

The governor’s intervention “is very unusual,” said William Bainbridge, an educational institutions expert in Florida. “My concern is about whether the nefarious activity going on here is an excuse for Ron DeSantis to appoint people that are like-minded with him.”

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Relatives of the 2018 shooting’s victims applauded DeSantis for holding officials accountable. “They directly affected decisions that caused a lack of discipline and let our children and spouses be murdered,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand With Parkland, an advocacy group made up of families of the victims. “Failing to do their job contributed to the deaths that occurred … That isn’t political.”

In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Florida Supreme Court impaneled a grand jury at DeSantis’s request. The panel was asked to investigate whether school districts accepted state funds to upgrade safety measures without properly implementing them. The report found that promised projects were delayed and significantly more expensive in Broward County than the school board had initially estimated.

“Students continue to be educated in unsafe, aging, decrepit, moldy buildings that were supposed to have been renovated years ago,” the investigation found.

“District officials often behave as though they have no interest in even knowing the realities of its schools, reminding us of nothing so much as the proverbial flock of ostriches burying their heads to avoid confronting reality,” the grand jury wrote.

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