By Scott Travis
The normally uneventful election for Broward County School Board has turned into a nationally watched race now that two parents of victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High have filed to run.
The campaigns of Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty are rooted in grief, anger and a desire to prevent another school shooting. Alhadeff's daughter, Alyssa, and Petty's daughter, Alaina, were among the 17 who died after Nikolas Cruz opened fire on Feb. 14.
"Every parent in Broward County deserves to have their child come home to them safely," Petty told the Sun Sentinel in an interview Tuesday. "I'm running to ensure what happened to my family and Lori's family doesn't happen to anyone else."
They're now supporting each other's candidacy and are forming a political action committee called Broward Parents for Better and Safer Schools to raise money. They have public relations representatives who organized a press conference Tuesday that drew about 50 members of the local and national media.
Petty and Alhadeff said the school district failed to properly respond to warning signs that Cruz was a troubled student with dangerous tendencies. Petty criticized the district's discipline system that gave Cruz and other students endless second chances when his behavior failed to improve.
"It's become pretty clear the district's policies are confusing and are applied haphazardly, and that means we have kids falling through the cracks, and that poses a threat to our students and teachers," Petty said.
They also criticized the district for what they see as a lack of openness, including failing to respond to requests for public information and changing stories about Cruz's involvement in the controversial Promise program, which provides alternatives to arrests for certain misdemeanors.
"I think the district should be transparent with the information," Alhadeff said. "Otherwise, are they hiding something? I have to question that."
Alhadeff, 43 is running for the District 4 seat, which Abby Freedman, 51, now occupies. Freedman said last month she plans to run for re-election in the district that includes the Parkland high school, but she has yet to file with the Supervisor of Elections. Freedman couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.
Alhadeff is a former classroom teacher in New Jersey and has a master's degree in education. She traveled to Indiana recently with some Parkland parents and school officials to visit a campus dubbed the "safest school in America" to get ideas on how to improve school security.
"I want to ensure schools provide safety and a quality education, and there is transparency and accountability," Alhadeff told the Sun Sentinel.
Petty works in the telecom industry and was appointed to a state commission investigating the Stoneman Douglas tragedy.
"Feb. 14 changed my world and opened my eyes to the impact school district policies have on the safety and security of our students," he said.
He is challenging incumbent Donna Korn, 46, for the at-large county seat. Korn also has a third challenger, 19-year-old activist Elijah Manley.
Korn, who filed for re-election months ago, said her "heart is heavy" and her condolences go out to the Petties and all the families who affected by the tragedy.
"I actually love the Democratic process," she said. "I'm looking forward to speaking to all the successes we have had in the school district and address all the places we still have to get better."
Alhadeff and Petty are being endorsed by a group of Parkland parents called Concerned Citizens of Broward County. Initially formed to address concerns with school security, the group started focusing on replacing School Board members after feeling the district wasn't responsive to their concerns, said John Daly Sr., who runs the group's Facebook page.
The group is also supporting former Stoneman Douglas teacher Richard Mendelson against incumbent Laurie Rich Levinson for the District 6 seat, which includes Weston, Cooper City and Davie.
Jim Silvernale, a union representative for district maintenance workers, has also received the group's endorsement. He's challenging incumbent Ann Murray for the District 1 seat, which includes Hollywood, Hallandale Beach and Dania Beach.
School Board member Nora Rupert, a longtime critic of Superintendent Robert Runcie, is the only incumbent the group plans to support. She is being challenged by Mikelange Olbel, who runs a nonprofit for underprivileged youth.
Campaign officials for Alhadeff and Petty say that while the two are supporting each other's candidacy, they're not involved in other School Board races.
(c)2018 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)