Ryan Petty: The Sins of a Superintendent


Town Hall meeting on school safety. Photo by Ryan Petty.

By: Ryan Petty

All of us make mistakes. The key is to acknowledge them, learn, and move on. The real sin is ignoring mistakes, or worse, seeking to hide them.” Robert Zoellick

Add another to the ever-growing list of sins committed by Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward County School Board, in the years leading up to and in the aftermath of the tragedy at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School February 14th, 2018. 

Sin. 

Not a word often associated with a school district, superintendent or school board. However, last night’s packed school safety town hall hosted by Broward County Public Schools at J.P. Taravella High School was no normal school town hall. 

But sin you say, I’ll come back to that shortly. 

Community Theater

A bus carrying supporters of Superintendent Runcie who came to the school safety town hall on Monday night. Photo by Ryan Petty.

Monday’s gathering went beyond what might be euphemistically labeled as “community theater”.  It was more religious revival than the traditional agitprop we’ve come to expect from the leaders of Broward County Public Schools. But right on cue, like a Hollywood production, busloads of witting and unwitting “extras” appeared on set, applauding as community “leaders” heaped praise upon Superintendent Runcie – weaving religious imagery including God, Biblical exhortations, even messages of redemption into their public comments.

Marsha Ellison of the NAACP and Brian Johnson, vice mayor of West Park set the tone as they kicked off the festivities to cheers from many in the crowd.

“I pray God continues to give you strength to endure this ongoing nightmare,” said Johnson. “ An entire community is watching you and admire(s) your strength.”

One might mistake Johnson’s comments directed at the families of the victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, or perhaps to the survivors of that tragic day – or to a still-grieving community in search of comfort.  No, Johnson’s comments were in praise of Superintendent Runcie.  There was even an Old Testament rebuke of the superintendent’s detractors.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Psalm 137:5

But the audience at times seemed lost cheering for speakers critical of the superintendent and the district. Voicing support for students from around the district, John Daly, a long-time critic of Superintendent Runcie and the school board, spoke powerfully about the district leaving minority students behind, commenting that the issue of school safety should not be about race or economic status.  Other parents expressed concerns over continuing safety issues that exist in schools around the district. The latest, a gun brought onto campus at Dillard High School this past week, a stark reminder of the superintendent’s failure.

Sin of Commission

What became clear on Monday night was the growing divide in our community.  A divide between the Parkland/MSD community, which has endured the horrors of the MSD tragedy, and much of the rest of the Broward County.  A divide engineered by Runcie’s sycophants and deliberately exploited by him in a well-planned, well-scripted attempt to silence Parkland and sow the seeds of division in our county.

And therein lies the latest sin of this superintendent and his willing enablers on the school board. This is not a sin of omission, as was the failure to follow through in 2013 on promised school security measures or to effectively use taxpayer-approved bonds to enhance school safety or the lack of urgency with which this district operates. 

This is a Sin of Commission

Runcie and his supporters on the Broward County School Board would rather a community tear itself apart over manufactured perceptions of racial and socioeconomic divisions than admit they failed to protect the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Dillard High School, or any of the over 200 schools in the district.  Over failures to effectively implement the SMART Bond program and over failures to demonstrate desperately needed leadership in the wake of the MSD tragedy.

This isn’t just about February 14th, 2018, or MSD or Parkland for that matter, this about every student, every teacher in every school in the district. For the school board to allow, and for some on the school board to encourage the superintendent and his supporters to use race and economic disparities should be grounds for their immediate removal.

The cause of that divide lies completely within the control of Superintendent Robert Runcie and members of the Broward County School Board and both should publicly disavow it immediately. 

But don’t hold your breath. 

Both hope to silence Parkland and for a change in the conversation.  They hope a change of conversation will deflect public scrutiny from their past and current inaction on school safety and the general lack of urgency with which the district addresses almost every issue. 

Revelation

While this tactic may be effective in a town hall setting, it will fall flat under the refiner’s fire of the coming Grand Jury.  And fortunately, that refiner’s fire is coming soon. 

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.  Malachi 3:2

While it is too late for Aaron, Alaina, Alex, Alyssa, Cara, Carmen, Chris, Gina, Helena, Jaime, Joaquin, Luke, Martin, Meadow, Nicholas, Peter and Scott, it doesn’t have to be for the other students and staff of Broward County Schools, regardless of where they live or where they go to school.  We must recognize the divisive tactics of this superintendent and his enablers and we must reject them before more lives are senselessly lost. 

Ryan Petty is a Parkland resident who lost his daughter Alaina in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s day 2018.  Ryan and his wife Kelly have been actively involved in the public policy arena as advocates for improving school safety through early identification, and intervention of potential threats, and was appointed in March 2018 by Governor Rick Scott to serve on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission.  Originally published on xero.net