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Florida School Districts Clash with DeSantis Over Mask Mandates, Flagler Complies After Much Debate

Photo supplied by Jaiden Chavez.

Public schooling in the state of Florida was thrown into disarray last month when Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order against mask mandates at the district level. Where some districts have complied with the Governor’s orders, others are rising to challenge him, even going so far as outright defiance.

The two most noteworthy counties taking a stand against DeSantis are Alachua and Broward counties, both of whom have instituted mask mandates in the face of the Governor’s order. According to an NBC News report, the Florida Board of Education is preparing unspecified punishments against the two counties.

Punishments against Alachua and Broward, and potentially against any other counties who might follow suit, are handed down by the state education commissioner. Richard Corcoran, an appointee of DeSantis, discussed severe penalties to counties who institute mask mandates at an education board meeting on Tuesday.

One proposed measure to punish districts who implement mask mandates has been to withhold school funding and the salaries of superintendents and board members. The Governor’s office later stated that they could not take such measures, but not before White House press secretary Jen Psaki made a symbolic offer on the  to replace those funds and salaries.

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The debate over mask requirements boiled over in a chaotic Flagler County School Board meeting Tuesday night. Emotions ran extremely high, and Flagler Sheriff’s Office deputies cleared the chamber of its attendees for part of the meeting. Board member Colleen Conklin pushed hard for some form of a mask mandate, with opt-out provisions to keep it compliant with DeSantis’s order. This, and other Covid precaution measures put forth by Conklin, failed to secure the three requisite votes to be passed in Flagler Schools.

Public speakers at the meeting represented both sides of the mask issues, with the anti-mask crowd coming out with force. Some even brought picket signs, with writings like ‘Stop The Communist School System’, and ‘Pandemic Is A Hoax’. Local vitriol against the school system was stirred in the past week, when a locally viral Facebook post by an Indian Trails Middle School parent implying that the school was monitoring its students’ vaccination, test, or mask status. For Flagler Schools, this is not accurate. Still, it served as a motivation for droves to attend Tuesday’s meeting advocating against any sort of school mask or vaccine requirements in Flagler County.

Law enforcement deputies became an active part of the meeting after discourse over masks became disruptive. Photo supplied by Jaiden Chavez.

“Wearing a mask is not a personal choice if school is the only place students have to go to be safe,” said Courtney VandeBunte in public comments. VandeBunte an independent curriculum designer challenging Janet McDonald for the District 2 seat on the School Board in 2022. McDonald, along with Jill Woolbright and Chairman Trevor Tucker, were the three votes which blocked Conklin’s measures from passing. “School Board members have a constitutional responsibility to protect teachers and students…Teachers, elementary and middle school teachers especially, are going to work each day knowing they are either going to be exposed to Covid, or inadvertently expose one of their unvaccinated students.” 

If VandeBunte were to replace McDonald on the board, the dynamic of power in situations such as this would shift noticeably, and the School Board would likely become the most effectively progressive of Flagler County’s several non-partisan government bodies.

It is widely confirmed medical fact that mask usage is effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but the debate in Florida and in Flagler County now focuses on who, if anyone, can mandate masks in places of public education. One side argues for public safety, another for personal freedoms. For now, Flagler County will not join Alachua and Broward counties in combatting state-level pressure to prioritize the latter of these two concerns.

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Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. TR

    August 18, 2021 at 6:49 pm

    How about looking at the fact that the CDC and Fauci said that children and young adults (under 20 yrs. old) do not poise a threat in spreading the virus. So why force the kids to wear a mask? It’s dumb to force this and not to mention there is medical proof for decades that
    lack of oxygen to the brain can cause major damage, which is exactly what happens when someone wears a mask for a long period of time, especially in younger people. Good for Flagler students, that they don’t have to wear a mask when in schools.

    • Allison

      August 18, 2021 at 11:04 pm

      Because the Delta variant is different from the others and in order for the virus to stay alive, which is it’s goal, it seeks out the vulnerable as all viruses do. With the intial variant, it attacked the elderly. Then it has run through the older adult population. It mutated and is now going after those who have not been infected, who are younger. The different variants require different responses. It’s called a novel virus for a reason.

      • TR

        August 19, 2021 at 6:20 am

        You missed my point. I get the reasons for the elderly, but it’s the children that are being forced to do something that’s not necessary. Not to mention, every time I go into a store like wal mart or publix, there are about 20% of the adults that are wearing a mask, wearing them improperly. Maybe concentrate on teaching them to wear the mask right so no kids will get sick. It’s kinda stupid to wear a mask the wrong way. You minus not wear one at all IMO. Wonder why there isn’t so much push for kids to wear a mask during flu season? It seems to me they are the ones who transmit the flu the most and yet they are no mask mandated at that time and look how many people die each year from the flu.

    • Guest

      August 19, 2021 at 2:34 am

      a big shout out and thank you for standing with our Governor that is standing Up for Liberty and Floridians …

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