EXCLUSIVE: Former Stoneman Douglas teacher in fierce race to win school board seat
Since the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February, several fed-up parents have jumped into the race for a seat on the school board, in an effort to make changes in the school system.
One of those school board candidates is Dr. Richard Mendelson, who is running for the District 6 seat, and has won the endorsement of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association.
Mendelson said in a recent interview with DML News that the Broward County School System has played a major role in his entire life. He graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1996, and came back after college to work there as a wrestling coach and a teacher in the Social Sciences Department for 13 years. In 2014, he left to serve as a Professor in the Graduate Psychology Department of Keiser University, and has been a registered Volunteer for Broward County Public Schools for the past three years. His son is enrolled at an elementary school within the Broward County school system as well.
Mendelson said he thought about running for school board for a long time, but “didn’t think politics was for regular people.” However, all that changed on February 14, when a troubled teen with a violent history was able to waltz right into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and shoot up the school, killing 17 innocent victims, including Mendelson’s life-long best friend, Coach Aaron Feis.
“It just broke something inside me,” Mendelson said in our interview. “Aaron was always there for me. There’s no way I could sit back and not do the best I can to make sure the students are safe and to make sure the people in leadership are going to be held accountable.”
“We have a bunch of people in leadership roles who didn’t do what they were supposed to,” Mendelson said of the Broward County School system, voicing concern that School Superintendent Robert Runcie has never seemed to accept any responsibility for the deadly school shooting.
Mendelson said the district has a long history of not functioning well, and stated that he has documentation that the school system has falsified data on “just about everything,” including behavior incidents, attendance, class size, and teacher compensation. He said it’s time to clean up the corruption.
“It’s not ok just to have people who are willing to serve in these seats – we also need people who are able to get the job done – and I’m that person,” he said.
He acknowledged that he’s running against tough competition. Incumbent Laurie Rich Levinson has held the District 6 seat for the past 8 years. She is the daughter of former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, who is currently a county commissioner in Broward County, and is a close acquaintance of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“I’m really running for a school board spot against the entire Democratic Party,” Mendelson said.
To combat the resistance his campaign has met from the media, local political organizations and the incumbent’s campaign, he and a group of local volunteers are busy knocking on doors and talking to the public. Last week, they knocked on about 2500 – 3,000 doors and attended 3 July 4th parades. Volunteers from other areas are working on the phone bank, helping to make phone calls.
“We have volunteers from all over the country – it’s been phenomenal,” he said. It’s a local election that’s playing out on a national level, but “I will win this,” Mendelson vowed emphatically.
The election ends August 28. For more information, Mendelson shared the following links:
Parkland parent Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was one of the 17 slain victims of the school shooting, has been a solid supporter for Mendelson, and posted the following Facebook Live video at a recent event. Mendelson appears on the video at the 5-minute mark, and shares his story about running for the school board.
Friday, Mendelson posted on his Facebook page that he is deeply grateful for the endorsement of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association.
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