In Broward School Board race, a lawyer challenges the mother of a Parkland shooting victim
Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | July 14, 2022
Four years after the death of her 14-year-old daughter pushed her into politics, Lori Alhadeff still doesn’t feel like her work is done.
But before the former teacher and stay-at-home mom, who was first elected to the Broward County School Board in 2018, plans any further, she must face Kimberly Coward, a Coral Springs attorney and former guidance counselor, in the Aug. 23 primary of the Broward School Board elections.
The winner will represent District 4, which spans across the northwest part of Broward and includes Coral Springs, Parkland, Tamarac, North Lauderdale and part of Margate, for the next four years.
The Broward Teachers Union and the Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association endorsed Alhadeff. Because Coward filed her paperwork a bit late, she said she hasn’t participated in any endorsement meetings.
Alhadeff, who has raised nearly $100,000 compared with nearly $20,000 raised by Coward, is running on her record of changing things at the Board, particularly related to school security.
“When I came in, I ruffled the feathers,” said Alhadeff, 47. “I brought to the board needed change, but I think I definitely have the energy and the desire to continue to make an impact.”
In 2018, Alhadeff replaced Abby Freedman, who did not seek reelection. Freedman supported former Broward superintendent Robert Runcie, who resigned last year following a grand jury investigation into school safety issues connected to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which 17 students and faculty members were killed.
Runcie, who received a $754,900 separation agreement approved by the School Board, was charged with lying to the grand jury. He has pleaded not guilty.
Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the Stoneman Douglas shooting, became a fierce critic of Runcie soon after she joined the board. She also advocated for more school security.
Coward, who’s single, co-parents her nephew who’s in ninth grade and has raised her godson from age 8. She said she can only empathize with Alhadeff’s loss.
“The situation my opponent went through is nothing I could even begin to speak on. So, I don’t even like to say I’m running against her,“ Coward said.
“I understand the political process is adversarial, but I decided to run not to oppose Lori Alhadeff, … because children are my primary motivator,” Coward added. “I am here for the best interest of the children, and I believe I’m the best choice.”
WHAT DO THE CANDIDATES STAND FOR?
About six years ago, Alhadeff and her family moved to Florida from New Jersey. Her husband, a doctor, and Alhadeff chose Parkland to escape the cold and because it ranked among the safest cities in the nation.
Up north, Alhadeff worked as a K-12 health and physical education teacher for five years up until 2002, when she became a stay-at-home mom. She previously graduated from The College of New Jersey with a bachelor’s in health and physical education and then from Gratz College in Pennsylvania with a master’s in education.
In 2018, after her daughter died, Alhadeff jumped into action to protect her two other sons, then a senior and sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, along with other students. While on the school board, she pushed for “Alyssa’s Law,” which the Legislature passed in 2020 and mandates panic alarms at every school to notify law enforcement of an emergency.
But, she said, such measures require follow-ups.
“It’s never a one and done,” Alhadeff said. “It’s a continuous process of checks and balances, making sure that a security measure that is implemented is followed with fidelity. Training is really important.”
Alhadeff also wants to prepare students for life after graduation, whether they choose to attend college or go another route professionally, through internships or vocational training. She also wants to complete the $800 million SMART bond program intended to modernize school facilities, initially pitched to voters in 2014.
For her part, Coward, originally from Dade City in the Tampa Bay area, attended the University of Florida, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in education and an education specialist degree. She also graduated from UF law school.
In her early career, she worked as a guidance counselor at Wesley Chapel High School and Land O’ Lakes High School in Pasco County, and served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Since 2004, she and her younger sister, Alfreda Coward, also an attorney, have run Coward & Coward, a Coral Springs law firm focused on criminal and family law and representing municipalities.
Coward also helped establish the One Voice Children’s Law Center, a nonprofit that represents children in legal issues. She decided to run for the school board to help more children.
Like Alhadeff, Coward also wants to strengthen school safety and security, which she believes goes hand in hand with mental health issues. She wants to increase the number of support staffers like social workers.
“I think academic excellence includes all those things — they have to be safe, they need to be mentally healthy and receive proper instruction that’s not a one size fits all,” she said.
DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATES, BROWARD SCHOOL BOARD
Occupation: School Board District 4 representative since 2018
Experience: PE teacher in New Jersey for five years and stay-at-home mom
Money raised: $99,723, as of July 14
Occupation: Attorney since 2004 Experience: U.S. Air Force captain for nine years, founded nonprofit called One Voice Children’s Law Center
Money raised: $19,640, as of July 14