DeSantis removes Broward school board elected officials after Parkland report
“It is my duty to suspend people from their jobs when there is clear evidence of incompetence, negligence, wrongdoing or wrongdoing,” 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 community of Parkland another step towards justice.”
A section of Florida law gives the governor the power to “suspend from office any elected or appointed municipal officer for misconduct, misconduct, dereliction of duty, habitual drunkenness, incompetence, or permanent inability to perform his official duties.” The governor can also take action if an official is arrested or charged with a misdemeanor or felony.
Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is the sixth largest school district in the nation and has approximately 260,000 students. The rare move to forcibly remove elected officials from office has been hailed by families of victims of school violence, but it has also sparked accusations of political abuse.
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.) Although school board positions are nonpartisan, all of the elected officials DeSantis has removed are listed in as Democratic voters. Several of their replacements have worked in Republican politics.
“What country is it? What Governor DeSantis has done is un-American and un-democratic,” Levinson said, according to the Miami Herald. “Because you can disagree about local political decisions, that’s no reason to remove someone from elected office.”
Earlier this month, DeSantis also fired an elected Democratic county prosecutor for refusing to prosecute certain cases related to abortion and gender-affirming care; the official brought an action for reinstatement.
DeSantis, who is considered a possible candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has made a name for himself in conservative circles by speaking out on issues such as teaching racial discrimination and LGBTQ issues in schools. Earlier this week, Conservative candidates backing his education agenda won more than a dozen local contests.
The governor’s intervention “is very unusual,” said William Bainbridge, an expert on educational institutions in Florida. “My concern is whether the nefarious activity taking place here is an excuse for Ron DeSantis to name like-minded people.”
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Relatives of the 2018 shooting victims applauded DeSantis for holding those responsible accountable. “They directly affected decisions that caused a lack of discipline and left our children and spouses to be murdered,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand With Parkland, an advocacy group made up of victims’ families. “Failure to do their job has contributed to the deaths that have occurred. … It’s not political.
Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the Florida Supreme Court appointed a grand jury at DeSantis’ request. The panel was asked to investigate whether school districts were accepting public funds to improve safety measures without implementing them properly. The report found that promised projects had been delayed and far more expensive in Broward County than the school board had originally estimated.
“Students continue to be educated in unsafe, aging, decrepit and moldy buildings that were supposed to have been renovated years ago,” the survey found.
“District officials often behave as if they have no interest in knowing even the realities of its schools, reminding us of nothing more than the proverbial flock of ostriches burying their heads to avoid facing reality” , wrote the grand jury.
David Nakamura contributed to this report.