Broward County

‘They should be fired’: Parkland parents call for gutting Broward school board

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, is surrounded by parents of other students killed in the Parkland massacre as he speaks during a news conference Thursday.
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, is surrounded by parents of other students killed in the Parkland massacre as he speaks during a news conference Thursday. Sun Sentinel

A group of parents whose children were killed in the Parkland school shooting came together Thursday to denounce the leadership of the Broward County Public School District and urge voters to elect new representation at the School Board.

The group Stand with Parkland, formed by the 17 families of the victims, slammed what it said was the nine-person School Board’s indecisiveness, infighting and policy reversals in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

The parents, who include Tony Montalto, Andrew Pollack, Fred Guttenberg, Ryan Petty and April Schentrup, stood in front of TV cameras inside the BB&T Center in Sunrise and said the current School Board had failed in preparing the county’s 234 public schools for the upcoming school year, set to begin on Wednesday.

The group did not call for the resignation of Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has been criticized for his handling of the school district’s public response to the shooting, but the families did not go out of their way to defend him.

“We have pointed out that the School Board has had many failures and can make the changes if they need to,” said Montalto, the president of Stand With Parkland and the father of Gina Montalto, who was killed in the shooting.

The points of contention involve the school district’s decision to scrap plans to use metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas, its hiring and quick firing of an outside consultant for an independent investigation, and its hesitancy to green light an armed-guardian program throughout the district.

After announcing that Stoneman Douglas would be the site of a new metal detector pilot program, Runcie said in a letter to parents on Aug. 3 that logistical problems and privacy concerns would prevent the plan from taking effect at the start of the school year.

That reversal, critics were quick to point out, was the second flip-flop Runcie made last week. The other came two days earlier, when the district fired retired Secret Service agent Steve Wexler, who had been hired last month to conduct an independent investigation into how administration actions may have contributed to the Feb. 14 shooting.

Runcie said Wexler’s investigation would have covered the same ground as that being carried out by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which held its monthly meetings Wednesday and Thursday. Subjecting school staff to duplicate interviews, he said, would unnecessarily burden those involved.

“It boils down to leadership,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting. “He flip-flops.”

After first ruling against complying with a new state law passed in the wake of the Parkland shooting, the School Board in late June voted to staff some schools in the district with a few dozen non-sworn guards. These so-called guardians, named after the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program that helped fund their hiring, will protect students alongside more costly police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

“A last-minute scramble, six scant weeks before school begins, is not the best way to keep students and teachers safe,” Montalto said. “We believe they deserve better.”

Five of the nine school board members are up for re-election, meaning a new majority could potentially take control of the board. The election will take place Aug. 28, and — unless one candidate wins more than half of the vote for a particular seat — the top two candidates for each contested seat will then face off on Nov. 6.

“The MSD Commission has committed to sharing its findings and recommendations with the District, which we will use to improve campus security protocols and hold identified staff accountable for their actions,” the school district said in an Aug. 1 statement. “We look forward to the Commission’s comprehensive report and a swift resolution.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was a victim of the MSD shooting, speaks during a press conference Thursday in Sunrise. Taimy Alvarez Sun Sentinel

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said the School Board made a “mockery” of its duties during a meeting on Tuesday during which two board members clashed over the school district’s reversal on metal detectors.

“They blame each other for decisions that were made and unmade,” Guttenberg said. “They should be fired.”