The mother of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior and two recent graduates announced on Friday her plans to run for the Broward County school board, the third parent inspired to try to make schools safer after the Feb. 14 shooting that took 17 lives.
Tenille Decoste joins the race for school board district 4, where she will run against Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the shooting. Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter, Alaina, is running for an at-large seat.
Decoste's son, Julien, 18, just graduated from Stoneman Douglas, and she said he was close friends with victim Joaquin Oliver. One of her daughters, Jada, 17, was homeschooled this past year but will be a senior at Stoneman Douglas in the fall. Her other daughter, Destinie, 23, graduated from the Parkland high school in 2013.
Decoste said she watched Julien cry about missing his friend at graduation rather than celebrating his achievement of finishing high school. He's headed to Valencia College in Orlando. The mother also fielded questions from her youngest daughter, incoming senior Jada, about whether it would be safe to go back to school.
"Children aren't supposed to be worried about, are they going to come home, or is there going to be another shooting?" Decoste said during a media availability at the Coral Springs office of a gynecology practice owned by her aunt. "They need to be worried about academics, and that’s it.
"This is why I got off the sideline," she said.
Decoste argued she is the best candidate for the position because of her experience in local government. She is assistant director for the city of Miramar and oversees athletics, child care, and camps. She previously worked as director of human resources for the city of Delray Beach.
She said she'll work to enhance school safety and improve mental health resources available to students.
She opposes teachers carrying guns, which is possible under a new state law passed since the shooting, and believes only law enforcement officers should be tasked with protecting campuses. The school board recently voted to hire armed security guards who are not members of local police forces, arguing it was the only way to comply with the law’s requirement that a cop or armed "guardian" be posted on every school campus by the start of next school year.
She and her daughter Jada both said they would oppose adding metal detectors or pursuing other policies that they argued would make schools feel like prisons.
"I want to go in and see the school I saw in ninth grade, in 10th grade," incoming senior Jada Decoste said.
Tenille Decoste said she would also use the position to advocate for stricter gun control measures.
She said she has the endorsement of Abby Freedman, the school board member who currently holds the seat but has announced she is not running for re-election. Freedman did not immediately return requests for comment. But as Decoste was preparing to begin the press conference, she called Freedman and put her on speakerphone, and Freedman confirmed she is supporting Decoste.
Asked for a response to Decoste's candidacy, a consultant who is working for Alhadeff’s campaign stressed she is focusing on getting her message out to the voters of district 4.
"Everyone has the right to run," Sean Phillipi, the consultant, said.
A third candidate, Michael Kottler, has also qualified for the race. He hasn’t raised any money yet. Alhadeff has brought in more than $75,000 in monetary and in-kind donations, compared to Decoste's about $2,500. The non-partisan race will appear on local ballots on Aug. 28, with a run-off, if necessary, on Nov. 6.
District 4 includes Parkland, Coral Springs, Tamarac and part of North Lauderdale.
Decoste’s daughter Jada said she would feel safer at school if her mother were on the school board, because she would know that someone she trusts is looking out for students’ best interest.
"She’s a very strong person, and if she wants change, she can make it happen," Jada Decoste said.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the Broward school board election is on Nov. 6. It is on Aug. 28, with a runoff, if necessary, on Nov. 6.