‘Hostiles, anger’: Many clashes erupt at Broward school board meeting

Frustration abounded among parents, community members and teachers at Tuesday’s Broward school board meeting — and the discussion became so heated that some used their floor time to comment on the controversy itself.

“The hostility, anger and indecency at this meeting was unprecedented — I’ve never seen anything like it,” said spokeswoman Mary McLaughlin.

The first of two proposed agenda items that parted ways with Superintendent Vickie Cartwright became a platform for everyone from parental rights advocates to critics of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policies , to those who want to keep politics completely out of the equation.

“We’re not here for politics, we’re for our children and our communities,” former Lake Lauderdale Commissioner Gloria Lewis tried to remind people in her comments in support of Cartwright’s firing.

Political or not, it was hard to ignore the growing public divide Tuesday, reflected in the divisions on the school board itself.

Outside the building, a small group of parental rights advocates held signs that read “Kids First, Politics Last” and “Foganholi, Alston, Fam,” referring to the more right-leaning section of the school board: DeSantis The two appointed members, Daniel Foganholi and Torey Alston, and school board member Brenda Fam.

“I emailed you with your latest plan, hate is going nowhere,” Deirdre Ruth told Cartwright. “Something violates HB 1557. …Did you look into it? …Do you know it’s teaching our kids critical race theory?

Fam advocates and DeSantis appointees sat across the aisle from a newly formed group protesting the same ranks, wearing whistles and T-shirts with the slogan “Truth Matters,” and joined board member Alan Zeman. Posing with Sarah Leonardi.

Public speakers for the group defended Cartwright while targeting certain school board members. “Board members sit here and judge the superintendent, but I think everyone’s behavior needs to be noticed,” said Melissa Shiff, wearing a “Truth Matters” T-shirt.

She received multiple warnings to keep her comments relevant to the project before board chair Lori Alhadeff interrupted her.

Many of the speakers put politics aside entirely because of their dismay at the state of the Cartwright and Broward schools. “I’m not standing here as a political agent or a performer,” said Jacqui Luscombe, chair of the ESE Advisory Council, which represents students with special needs. “2,619 students didn’t even get their speaking services this year.”

Some speakers added personal attacks to their remarks, including Natalie Lynch-Walsh, a frequent critic of school district leaders, and Terry Scott, who also raised the issue of the lack of speech therapists. “If I have to give you credit for something, thank you for bringing everyone together,” Lynch-Walsh said, referring to a range of political factions in attendance.

But the vitriol has raised concerns among some. Another spokesman, wearing a “Truth Matters” shirt, said “it’s not polite to come to the microphone” and that Cartwright was the only one who showed courtesy at the meeting.

The animosity among the public extended to the board in its own discussions, as school board members sparred with Cartwright and among themselves.

“The facts really matter,” said board member Alan Zeman, whose proposed project to terminate Cartwright has sparked much discussion. “I want to be clear that this is neither personal nor political.”

But Cartwright said the backlash she faced was just that.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Is this political?'” she said. “I hope not.”

Alston, who has long advocated for Cartwright’s firing, told her his criticism was purely professional. She doesn’t parse words in her reply.

“You said a lot of grandstanding without substance,” she told him, to the amazement of those in the audience. “Please stop publicly humiliating, sir.”

Ultimately, the Broward School District agree to sever ties With Superintendent Vickie Cartwright on Tuesday, her final day could come sometime within a month following her upcoming negotiations with Lori Alhadeff.

Board member Sarah Leonardi criticized the executive and the board, before questioning whether the search for a new executive would be free from political influence. “I’m very concerned about the behavior of this committee, the inconsistency of this committee and the message it’s sending,” she said. “The truth is, our strategic plan, our goals and our guardrails don’t matter. Instead, we’re going to evaluate executives based on the opinion of certain powerful people.”

In the meantime, Alston tried to remind everyone that the school board remains a united front.

“We are one,” he said. “Nine of us in one. … I respect this mixed board. It’s a competent board, a good board.”