Frank Howard, former Dade school board attorney, dead at 86

Frank Howard Jr., who during two decades as Dade County School Board attorney helped guide the district through desegregation, corporal punishment and school prayer, died Oct. 12 after a long fight with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 86.

“He was a very special person and attorney,” said G. Holmes Braddock, a school board member during Howard’s entire 21-year tenure as board attorney. “He always did what he thought was right.”

Howard and his law firm were contracted by the school board starting in the early 1970s, when the district was working to comply with a new court-ordered integration plan. Those efforts drew a visceral reaction from the community, including a two-day, 10,000-student boycott, and led to death threats and round-the-clock security for some district personnel.

“You can’t believe how bad it was,” said Braddock. “It was big-time nasty. And Frank took us through the bulk of it.”

Over his 21 years as school board attorney, Howard issued a number of polarizing opinions, from allowing drug-sniffing dogs into schools to ruling that a first-grader who missed a month of class to become a Santeria priestess should be excused her absences on religious grounds. He signed an opinion that coach-led prayer before games was unconstitutional, and fought The Miami Herald’s demands in the 1980s for the medical records of a suspended teacher who killed eight people in a dispute over a lawnmower repair bill.

But perhaps his biggest case was a corporal punishment lawsuit over a Miami-Dade paddling incident that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Howard argued on behalf of the school district, and the court upheld paddling, which is no longer a practice in schools.

Howard’s rise to prominent Miami-Dade attorney and eventual Dade County Bar Association president began Nov. 3, 1926 in Lakeland, Fl., where he was born into a family he once wrote “almost literally lived by the cracker slogan of ‘Grits and Grunts and Coconut Pie.’ ”

His family moved to the western edge of Coral Gables shortly after, and he attended Miami-Dade County public schools and the University off Miami. He earned his law degree from Harvard Law School, and also served as a Navy intelligence officer.

Howard retired from the school board in 1993, but kept in touch with Braddock and longtime friend Eldrige Williams, a retired Tuskeegee Airman and district administrator who oversaw desegregation efforts. The trio shared breakfast once a month at the Chuck Wagon restaurant on Southwest 117th Avenue, until September, when Braddock said Howard grew too ill.

Howard is survived by his wife, Emiliana, and daughter Elizabeth.

“It’s a great loss,” said Williams. “We’re certainly going to miss Frank.”

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