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Slain Students’ Families Hammer School Board

Memorials for the students who perished during the Parkland School shooting.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Family members whose loved ones were killed during a massacre at a Parkland high school in February slammed the Broward County School board for failing to make schools safe, just one week before classes begin.

The group, which held a press conference at an arena where the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission was meeting Thursday, also called for the school board to be voted out of office, blasting them for a lack of leadership.

“We have focused on issues, but the school board has not provided answers,” said Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina, was among the 14 students killed in the Valentine’s Day mass shooting. Three faculty members also died after Nikolas Cruz, who confessed to the killings, allegedly opened fire at his former school. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of murder.

“So today we would like to make the citizens of Broward County aware that the current school board has failed to properly prepare the county’s 234 schools for the upcoming school year,” said Montalto, president of “Stand with Parkland,” a nonprofit organization launched by parents of Parkland victims in response to the mass shooting.

Montalto urged “everyone concerned with the safety of this county’s schools” to take action at the polls.

“Vote for new school board representation that would be more concerned about the safety of students and teachers in all of Broward County,” he said.

Two parents of 14-year-old girls who were killed in the Valentine’s Day massacre are running for school board.

Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was among the 17 victims, and Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina also died, are running “in order to continue their fight for improved school safety, increased transparency and increased accountability in Broward Schools in order to ensure a quality education,” they said in a press release announcing their candidacy in May.

During a Broward County School Board meeting earlier Thursday morning, board member Donna Korn called the 2017-18 academic year “one of the best” for the county.

But Korn’s comments elicited outrage from April Schentrup, whose 16-year-old daughter, Carmen, was among the slain Parkland students.

“Being an employee of the school district, and a mother who has endured such tragedy, it was difficult to hear those words,” Schentrup said. “Because I know we are not the only ones in Broward County who struggled. We know that it wasn’t an amazing year. We know that it wasn’t the best year for Broward schools.”

Schentrup said the county needs school board members who are “compassionate, who understand and who lead.”

Other parents vented frustrations with the school board’s “lack of leadership” and failure to reach consensus about school security issues.

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex also died, created a task force to screen companies that want to donate and sell safety-related products to the school system.

Schachter, who serves on the public safety commission created by the state Legislature earlier this year, said that over $2 million worth of products were donated, but the school district turned him away.

“There is no accountability,” he said. “There’s no leadership and we don’t want this (school shooting) to happen to other schools. We don’t want this to happen to any other children.”

Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was also a victim, accused school district Superintendent Robert Runcie of reversing himself on major decisions related to the investigation of the Feb. 14 event as well as other school-safety issues.

“He flip-flopped on the internal report to look into the administration on what went wrong,” said Pollack. “I’m all in on this from the beginning and I say this in front of all my family and friends --- accountability. My daughter was murdered.”

The parents of the victims shared their concerns with reporters during a break in Thursday’s meeting of the public safety commission at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. The commission has been tasked with investigating the Parkland shooting --- the second-worst school shooting in the nation’s history --- and making recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

“What happened Feb. 14th, changes everything,” Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was among the victims, told reporters after the press conference. “And sometimes leadership rises to an occasion and sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t here.”