2 Broward School Board members face review after accusations of touching
South Florida SunSentinel | By Scott Travis | April 4, 2023
An outside investigator will reviewtwo incidents where Broward School Board members have been accused of inappropriate touching.
Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff told the School Board on Tuesday she had received “some disturbing information,” about two incidents, including one that involved a student.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel has confirmed that the two board members are Brenda Fam and Allen Zeman, who both joined the School Board in November. District officials said they have referred both issues to the state Ethics Commission, but Alhadeff said Tuesday she wanted to go beyond that.
Alhadeff will ask the School Board on April 11 to direct Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley and General Counsel Marylin Batista to hire an outside investigator.
In the Fam case, an 18-year-old student allegedly reported to the district that the School Board member touched him on the buttocks during an April 27 event at the Signature Grand in Davie.
Fam told the Sun Sentinel in a text that she accidentally touched someone at an awards banquet but didn’t specify where on the body it was.
“While taking group photos at an award ceremony the photographer instructed us to squish in closer so everyone could fit in the camera frame. We all moved closer together, similar to what individuals do when squishing together in an elevator,” she said. “My hand inadvertently brushed against someone and I apologized.”
Fam added, “The individual laughed and stated, it was an accident. I was embarrassed and moved to a different location in the photos.”
The 18-year-old student declined to comment when contacted by the Sun Sentinel.
School Board spokesman John Sullivan declined to provide specifics about the allegation against Fam.
“While we cannot confirm any allegations or specific details, we would like to emphasize that the safety and security of our students are our top priority. Any concerns raised are taken seriously, and the appropriate processes are followed to ensure a thorough and fair evaluation of the situation,” he said in an email.
In the second incident, a male staff member told former Superintendent Vickie Cartwright in December that board member Allen Zeman had hit him on the buttocks. In February, Zeman called the issue a “nothing burger.”
Zeman told the Sun Sentinel in February he remembers hugging the employee but not touching his buttocks.
“I don’t actually remember slapping his butt, so I couldn’t tell you if I did or didn’t. But we’re also athletes and guys do that to athletes. He had no issue with it.”
The employee told the Sun Sentinel in February that he made Cartwright aware of the situation, “and I did inform her I didn’t wish to file a complaint and wasn’t asking her to file a complaint.”
The issue became public in February when Cartwright’s lawyers raised the issue during her separation negotiations, leading some School Board members, including Zeman and Fam, to accuse her of trying to use the incident to get more money.
“If there is, in fact, inappropriate touching going on, which is one of the things that was alleged, that should be investigated,” Fam said at the time. “If this woman is saying, ‘You pay me and I’ll protect your secrets,’ I say that’s a no-go.”
The Sun Sentinel is not naming the subjects of the allegedtouching due to the nature of the allegations.
During Tuesday’s meeting, all board members agreed to the investigation, including Fam and Zeman.
“I think every complaint needs to be heard and where there are credible complaints, they need to be investigated,” Zeman said at the meeting.
Board member Debbi Hixon said, “It’s very uncomfortable and sad that we’re discussing this at all.”
The board plans to send a written notification to Gov. Ron DeSantis of the outcome of the investigations, Alhadeff said.
The board also may ask the School Board members to limit their interaction in the district to board meetings and workshops during the investigation.
“Every employee and every student needs to feel safe, and it starts at the top,” Board member Nora Rupert said.
Alhadeff said the investigation would likely take a few weeks.