Two parents of students killed during the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have launched campaigns to challenge sitting members of the Broward County School Board.
Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty both lost 14-year-old daughters, Alyssa Alhadeff and Alaina Petty, on that horrible day, and say they are running for office to honor their daughters’ legacies. Alhadeff is challenging current school board member Abby Freedman, and Petty is pursuing the countywide at-large seat held by Donna Korn, according to Politico.
The Broward County School Board has been under a harsh spotlight since the shooting, as questions have been raised about the school’s disciplinary policies and whether they were too lenient in their responses to violent and dangerous behavior.
Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie has personally garnered a lot of criticism, for his efforts to block public and media access to information about the former student who committed the shooting and the county’s disciplinary policies. The criticism fired up again earlier this month when it was revealed that Runcie and other Broward officials had lied — or, at best, been egregiously misleading — in denying that the shooter had participated in a controversial alternative discipline program called PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports & Education).
PROMISE was started in Miami-Dade County and adopted by Broward in 2013. The general concept of allowing troubled students to avoid criminal records if they complete rehabilitation programs is a valid idea, but many critics view PROMISE and related programs as being too lenient, especially in light of information that has surfaced about how these programs have been implemented.
Specifically regarding the Broward disciplinary policy, its own written terms stated that arrests were not required even for violence or threats to school safety. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is under the critics’ microscope as well for his support of these disciplinary policies and the seemingly unending list of maddening reports about the shooter’s long and repeated history of disciplinary problems never resulting in an arrest or any other criminal justice intervention that would have prevented him from legally buying guns.
Petty has been a vocal critic of Runcie and Israel, and their agency’s policies since the shooting, especially on social media, but neither he nor Alhadeff directly criticized Runcie or any other school board member as they launched their campaigns. Instead, their comments focused on wanting to bring “accountability and transparency” to the school board and save other parents from experiencing the pain they had at the loss of their children.
As reported by Politico’s Marc Caputo:
“I don’t want Alyssa’s life to be in vain. I’m doing this because I don’t want another parent to go through the pain and anguish that I have to go through every day,” Alhadeff told POLITICO. “I don’t want any child to have to say to their mom, ‘Mommy, am I going to die today if I go to school?’ It is my job. It is my duty to make sure these schools are safe. And the only way I’m going to do that is if I get on the school board to make those decisions and make those changes.”
…“My eyes were open that day and I decided I needed to be more involved in how issues like safety and security are handled at the district to make sure our students and teachers are safe,” Petty said. “Every child deserves to have a great education. But they have to feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, it’s really hard to learn.”
…“If I don’t get in there and change it, it’s unlikely to change,” Petty said. “And we’ll end up continuing the same approach that clearly failed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. “If I don’t stand up and let other parents understand the risks and threats that are in our schools, I miss an opportunity to honor the memory of my daughter and the memory of the other victims.”
Petty, along with other family members of the victims, have taken a leading role in supporting legislative reforms at the state and federal level. Among the measures in the Florida bill were a three day waiting period for gun purchases, raising the minimum age to 21, funding dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars to improved security measures, and a legal process for law enforcement to seize firearms from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
Reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, Petty told RedState that experience was part of the reason he wanted to run for the school board.
“I’ve felt like there was a window of opportunity to have an impact,” said Petty, “so the time to try to have an impact is now.”
Petty is also one of three parents of Parkland victims who are serving on a school safety commission appointed by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) to investigate the shooting, and the multiple government failures before and during that fateful day.
“If I get elected to the school board, I can be part of making sure the law gets implemented. And that was as close to an ah-ha moment as I can tell you,” Petty told Politico. “I felt an obligation to work on this legislation to honor my daughter and make sure this never happens again.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.