Ryan Petty narrowly confirmed to State Board of Education despite demeaning statements

Teacher in her classroom
Teacher in her classroom. Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

Over strong objections from some senators, Republican Ryan Petty narrowly won confirmation Friday to serve on the State Board of Education, overseeing one of the largest public school systems in the country.

Petty is the father of Alaina Petty, one of 17 students and staff gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.

Petty was confirmed on a 23-16 vote along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate, even after some senators denounced insulting remarks Petty posted on social media.

Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. a Broward Democrat, told fellow senators that Petty is not an educator and that he has made “insulting, sarcastic, demeaning remarks” about blacks, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ people, liberals, unions, and graduates of public schools “over and over again.”

“Many of these statements were elicited when he ran for school board of Broward County,” Thurston said, citing public comments Petty posted on Twitter, some of which were later published in an investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Ryan Petty, confirmed Friday to the state Board of Education on a 23-16 vote. Credit: Petty’s LinkedIn page

Petty, a Republican telecom executive from Parkland, served on the public safety commission that investigated events before, during and after the school massacre.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade, said he respects Petty’s activism for school safety after his daughter, other students and staff were slain at the high school. But he said he could not support Petty’s confirmation to a statewide education post after Broward County voters rejected him at the local level.

“He didn’t win that election … and now here we were putting him in charge of the entire state,” Braynon said.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, a central Florida Republican and chair of the committee that vetted Petty for this post, called for his confirmation despite the objections of the Broward County senators.

“I think we’ve had a thorough vetting, and I stand by the report,” Baxley said.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Broward County Democrat who served on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School public safety commission, did not cast a vote.