On Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he would be suspending four elected members of the Broward County school board. This decision was made in response to a recommendation made by a grand jury that was convened in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed the lives of 17 people in 2018.
In its report, which was made public last week, the grand jury came to the conclusion that the four members of the school board, along with a fifth individual who no longer holds that position, had “engaged in acts of incompetence and neglect of duty.” This was in part due to what the grand jury described as “mismanagement” of a $800 million bond issue that was approved by voters in 2014 with the intention of renovating schools and making them safer.
Patricia Good, Donna P. Korn, Ann Murray, and Laurie Rich Levinson were removed from their positions as board members by Mr. DeSantis. Even though none of the nine seats on the school board are partisan, all four of its members are registered Democrats. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the politically liberal county of Broward. Ms. Korn was one of the candidates that appeared on the ballot on Tuesday and had advanced to the runoff election for the election in November.
Rosalind Osgood, another Democrat and the fifth person recommended for removal from office in the study, was elected to the State Senate in a special election earlier this year. The report calls for her removal from office.
Ms. Levinson would to comment on the particular claims that were made in the report, but she did say that they were a pretext for “political revenge.” Her refusal came just hours after she was removed from the board on which she had served for 12 years. She said that all of the board members who had been suspended had won their respective elections after the incident.
“What Governor DeSantis did is not just unpatriotic but anti-democratic as well. He is unconcerned with democratic principles, and he subverted what the people had decided.
In the turbulent year that followed the mass shooting that took place on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a state panel determined that the police response to the atrocity was inadequate. As a direct consequence of this, immediately after being inaugurated in as governor of Florida in 2019, Mr. DeSantis suspended Scott Israel from his position as elected sheriff of Broward County.
It was tasked with investigating possible wrongdoing in school districts across the state, including determining whether or not a refusal or failure to follow school safety laws put students in danger; determining whether or not districts committed fraud by accepting state funds conditioned on safety measures without putting them in place; and determining whether or not districts diverted funds from bonds designated for school safety for other purposes.
The report was finished by the grand jury in April of 2021, but it was held under seal as the members of the school board who were mentioned in it battled against its publication. The last appeal that the board members sought to have their identities deleted from the study was denied by the state Supreme Court last week, and the report was released to the public as a result.
This month, Mr. DeSantis made headlines across the country after he suspended Andrew H. Warren from his position as the elected Democratic top prosecutor in Hillsborough County, which is the county in which Tampa is located, for promising not to prosecute individuals who seek or provide abortions. This action garnered Mr. DeSantis widespread attention.
Additionally, the governor nominated four Republicans to the board to take the place of the members who had been suspended. After nominating a member in April to replace Ms. Osgood’s old position, he has now appointed a total of five Republicans to serve on the board of directors. The board is now presided over by a majority of Republican males, as opposed to the nine Democratic women who had previously held that position. This year, one of Mr. DeSantis’s top goals has been working to get conservatives elected to positions on school boards. Cultural conflicts in the classroom have emerged as a central focus of Republican Party electoral campaigns.
The probe by the grand jury has also resulted in additional consequences. A felony allegation of perjury was brought against Mr. Runcie, the superintendent, for his alleged role in lying to the grand jury the previous year. Barbara J. Myrick, who works as the general attorney for the school system, was accused of committing another crime by unlawfully disclosing the proceedings of a statewide grand jury. Both have entered not guilty pleas, and their respective trials are yet to come. In August of 2021, Mr. Runcie decided to stand down from his position.