2 parents of murdered Parkland teens run together for Broward school board

- Mei 14, 2018

MIAMI — Two parents of children murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School turn their grief into political activism Tuesday as they announce they’re running together for two seats on the Broward County School Board to bring more security, accountability and transparency to a system in which many have lost faith.

Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty say they want their campaigns and public service to honor their 14-year-old daughters, Alyssa Alhadeff and Alaina Petty, and help ensure there’s never a tragedy like the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland that claimed the lives of 17 and injured 17 others.

“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.”

Both Alhadeff and Petty refrained from specifically criticizing or naming the school board incumbents they might challenge. They also didn’t mention the name of school Superintendent Robert Runcie, who made himself a magnet for criticism as the district stonewalled the release of public information about the accused shooter and released false and misleading statements about him as well as the district’s discipline policies.

Last week, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that Runcie’s signature discipline program, called PROMISE, was poorly executed, “exaggerated” the effects of rehabilitating misbehaving students and led many teachers and parents to worry that the policies disincentivized discipline and overemphasized public relations.

Runcie has begrudgingly acknowledged fault with implementing the PROMISE program, which was designed to give nonviolent kids a second chance. He previously accused critics of wrongly focusing on the program to score political points in the wake of the Parkland shooting, after which he called for more gun control.

Alhadeff attended a public meeting concerning the program, only to find it “confusing” and “not very specific.”

“The only thing I understood is the reason for the PROMISE program was to give kids second chances and also to help fight the ‘school to prison pipeline.’ But besides that, they were not very clear in explaining how the PROMISE program worked,” she said.

The Broward school district is the nation’s sixth largest and second-largest in Florida behind Miami-Dade.

Both Alhadeff and Petty said they wanted to bring more “accountability and transparency” to the school board. Neither blamed the PROMISE program for the school shooting, but Petty said the unimaginable horror of the Feb. 14 shooting made him realize how unsafe schools might be.

“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.”

Petty said he liked the idea of making sure kids got second chances. He said the concept behind PROMISE is laudable because “kids could benefit from these program and we may be missing opportunities to actually help some of these kids.”

Petty became an ally of Florida Gov. Rick Scott after the shooting and helped lobby for state legislators to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which called for more school security and unprecedented gun control measures in Florida limiting the purchase of any gun to people 21 or older. It also imposed a three-day waiting period on all gun buys and gave police new powers to seize weapons from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

Petty and two other Parkland dads are sitting on a special statewide fact-finding commission investigating the multiple failures before and during the shooting.

“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,” said Petty, who works in the telecom industry. “I felt an obligation to work on this legislation to honor my daughter and make sure this never happens again.”

Alhadeff, who said she went from soccer mom to activist after the shooting, said the schools can implement some basic changes to improve safety.

“You need bulletproof doors and bulletproof glass in the classroom. This would have saved Alissa’s life. The shooter shot through the glass. He never actually entered the classroom,” she said.

She said teachers and students need to have access to “stop-the-bleed kits” and classrooms have to have clearly marked safe zones outside the line of fire of a potential shooter. She also called for a change in the way fire-alarm drills are performed to prevent a shooter from pulling an alarm and flushing unsuspecting victims into hallways where he can more easily shoot people en masse.

Alhadeff is running for a seat based in Parkland held by school board member Abby Freedman. Petty is filing for a countywide at-large seat currently held by a Scott appointee, Donna Korn.

Alhadeff and Petty’s two campaigns are associated with a new political committee, Broward Parents for Better and Safer Schools, which is being handled by Democratic consultants Eric Johnson and Sean Phillippi. They’re also running Alhadeff’s campaign. Petty’s campaign is being advised by Danielle Alvarez, who’s with the heavy-hitting consulting firm Mercury.

Petty and Alhadeff say they don’t have all the answers to all of the problems schools face. But they say they felt compelled to make a change at the local level when so many people in the community raised concerns with the school district.

“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.”


 

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