School safety grand jury fallout continues with administrators’ exit, alternative discipline centers’ suspension
A legal challenge to armed school guardians was struck down.

State Education Board briefed on grand jury report release that resulted in four Broward County School Board members' replacement.

The grand jury report that resulted in four Broward County School Board members’ suspension has also triggered the exit of three Broward administrators and the discontinuation of Miami-Dade County’s “student success centers,” which were skewing incident reports.

That was the report Thursday to the state Board of Education on what action has been taken in the wake of a grand jury report on school safety. The report found “incompetence and neglect of duty” in Broward County Schools along with other violations of state safety requirements at four other school districts.

Soon after the dust cleared from Gov. Ron DeSantis replacing four Broward School Board members with his appointees, Superintendents in Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach counties were asked to meet with state Department of Education (DOE) officials.

That meeting aimed to address safety items the grand jury report identified, chiefly involving the school districts undercounting student incidents, not following protocols for dealing with troubled students and going their own way when dealing with local law enforcement.

The outcomes of the visits with Duval, Orange and Palm Beach are still pending, but DOE Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva told the board that both Broward and Miami-Dade have acted swiftly in response to the findings.

Most of the problems the grand jury found that Oliva cataloged to the Board happened under the watch of Superintendent Robert Runcie, who was subsequently charged with lying to the grand jury. His successor, Vickie Cartwright, has been working closely with state officials and gave a full presentation about how the district is trying to improve school safety, Oliva said.

The grand jury was charged with investigating the failures that led to the state’s worst school shooting in Parkland. But its focus expanded to other schools’ safety procedures and why Broward was not spending the $800 million in bond money that voters approved in 2014. Runcie and two other administrators have faced criminal charges as a result of the grand jury’s findings. The fallout from those failures continued this month, Oliva said.

“Superintendent Cartwright gave at least three employees … the option to resign or to take leave,” Oliva said.

The Sun-Sentinel reported Chief of Staff Jeff Moquin and David Watkins, director of diversity and school climate, both decided to resign Sept. 8. Ron Morgan, assistant chief fire official, decided to retire a few days later.

State Board of Education member Ryan Petty — whose daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting that spurred the grand jury’s investigation — had strong words for the four School Board members who had sued to keep the grand jury report, issued in April 2021, from coming out until August. As a result, action on the report’s findings for other districts were also delayed.

“I just find it appalling that four School Board members in Broward County, attempting to keep their names out of this grand jury report and to face the consequences of their incompetence and lack of action on the school safety bond in Broward County, are actually having an impact on students, staff teachers in the safety of schools across Florida,” he said. “I just find it the height of hubris.”

One of the suspended members, Donna Korn, is in a runoff election this November. Patricia Good, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich Levinson were also replaced on the Broward County School Board.

Thursday’s report on Miami-Dade County Schools’ response to the report focused on how the district’s school suspension incidents were skewed because students went to “success centers” even though their offenses merited suspension, Oliva said.

“During a site visit the (DOE) Office of School Safety found that the data continues to be laundered through the misuse of centers,” Oliva said.

Superintendent Jose Dotres, who was named the district’s leader beginning in January, agreed to suspend the use of the centers, Oliva said. He called Dotres’ Sept. 2 letter to the DOE “a step forward” to better show what’s happening in the schools.

“He (Dotres) also suspended the use of student success centers pending a full internal investigation into all disciplinary models,” Oliva said.

Board Chair Tom Grady seemed to indicate more exits might be warranted. He asked Oliva whether the state Board of Education has the authority to suspend school Superintendents. He cited a previous situation in which Broward Superintendent Cartwright was summoned to the state Board to answer questions about the district’s policy that required students to wear masks, “in disregard of Florida law.”

Oliva said he’s not an expert, but Superintendents are employed by the School Board at the local level.

“Any hiring and firing or any personnel-related actions would be done locally by the elected officials at the school district,” Oliva said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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