Broward County Superintendent Vickie Cartwright is on the hot seat today as the Broward County School Board considers firing her — again — the day after the state Department of Education (DOE) dinged her for ignoring its safety information requests.
The last two months have been full of upheaval for the chief of the nation’s sixth-largest school district. Facing a Board with a majority Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed, Cartwright was fired Nov. 14 in the last, scheduled meeting of that so-called “reform board.”
Elections replaced three out of five of those DeSantis appointees, however, and the late-night firing was rescinded Dec. 13 with a plan to revisit her dismissal.
And now comes Scott Strauss, the vice chancellor of the DOE’s Office of Safe Schools (OSS), blasting Cartwright in a Monday letter, first reported in the Sun Sentinel, for not providing data the state asked for in September. It’s a chronic issue for which the OSS will hold the Superintendent “fully accountable,” the letter says.
School safety has been a particularly critical issue in Broward County schools. The state’s worst school shooting happened there in 2018. And subsequent evaluation of the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead and 17 others injured uncovered numerous failures on the school district’s part.
Those issues predated Cartwright’s tenure — she began as interim Superintendent in 2021 — but the DOE has increased its oversight of best school safety practices throughout the state.
Cartwright, according to Strauss’ letter, was asked on Sept. 1 — and agreed to provide — the following documentation:
— Any documentation discussing referral tracking and corresponding data from the program designed to address student infractions that the convicted Parkland school shooter went through.
— The district’s annual budget since 2017.
— Any documentation regarding how the district reported criminal incidents that occurred on campus over the past several years.
— Any documentation regarding training for collecting student incident data, known as School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting or SESIR.
— A copy of the data from the 41,000 parents who responded to a school survey outlining concerns surrounding school safety.
— Any documentation regarding how your faculty reports criminal incidents that have occurred on campus.
— Any documentation regarding the school safety aspect of an $800 million bond for school building improvements, that were long delayed.
Cartwright’s response has been unsatisfactory, according to Strauss’ letter, also sent to Broward County School Board members.
“After making the OSS wait well over four months, it speaks volumes that you were able to provide most of these documents in just a matter of hours during this morning’s meetings,” Strauss’ letter says.
Cartwright came in as the interim leader of Broward schools when the aftershocks of the Parkland school shooting resulted in the arrest and firing of the previous Superintendent, Robert Runcie, in the spring of 2021. She was named permanent Superintendent of the district nearly a year ago, in February.
Cartwright was not in a decision-making capacity during the controversy that resulted in the removal of four Broward County School Board members. Their removal was recommended after a grand jury report impaneled in response to the shooting found the Board members were negligent for not addressing the needed school repairs sooner. An alarm system that needed replacing at the site of the shooting was one of the deficiencies the Board was supposed to address.
Cartwright soon found herself in the crosshairs of the Board members DeSantis appointed in place of the members he removed. The Governor also appointed a fifth Board member earlier to fill a vacancy resulting from Sen. Rosalind Osgood’s resignation to run for state Senate.
Cartwright was the Superintendent when Broward Schools became the first school district to defy the Governor’s edict prohibiting student mask mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Two other Florida Superintendents who did the same were ousted in November, in Sarasota and Brevard counties. Cartwright was one in a parade of Superintendents who had to explain to the state Board of Education last week why a bonus given to teachers during the last school year had not yet been distributed.
Cartwright’s record on school safety has not been a focus for the School Board’s discussion of her continued employment as much as her leadership style.
“It’s important to realize when our Superintendent is in over her head,” School Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff said at one meeting, according to the Sun-Sentinel.