Published On: Thu, Sep 23rd, 2021

Public commenters at school board meetings unsupportive of mask mandates

Palm Beach County School District is one of several districts to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mandatory mask-wearing, members of the public have been voicing their concerns over this decision.

Throughout the Sept. 22 meeting, the majority of public commenters were unsupportive of the current mask mandate.

Several members of the public stated that, due to the lack of an opt-out option, the district was breaking the law.

DeSantis’ executive order requires that school districts provide an opt-out option for mask mandates. PBC Schools Superintendent Mike Burke initially provided an opt-out option but reversed his decision a few days later. Broward, Alachua, Miami-Dade, and other counties have also defied the governor’s order. PBC parents who elected to opt-out their children were required to send a signed note on the first day of school. 

In August, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that DeSantis’ executive order was an unconstitutional overstep of authority and that school districts should have power in local decision-making. The appeals court decided to reinstate DeSantis’ ban in September.

At August’s monthly meeting, the PBC chairman, Frank Barbieri, was attempting to announce meeting safety measures when an unidentified member of the public began to shout and was eventually escorted out of the room. 

As Wednesday’s meeting began, Barbieri said, “This board has sat here courteously listening with civility to public speakers despite many of the speakers acting without civility and being discourteous to the board and district staff. This board will not tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Barbieri explained that there was a separate room available for members of the public who would prefer to remain maskless during the meeting. People were able to address the School Board directly from the separate room through a Zoom call. Meeting attendees who chose to stay in the main room were instructed to keep their masks over their nose and mouth. 

One self-identified mother accused the board and the district’s teachers of bullying her child for not wearing a mask.

“This insanity cannot go on forever,” she said.

A woman who identified herself as Sandy Sullivan said, “Let all the parents in here have the option to mask their children. This is absolutely ridiculous. How can you have moments of silence to yourselves? What are your souls doing?”

Sullivan was referring to the moment of silence held by the board in memory of seven district employees and teachers who have died in the past several months. While in the mask-required room, she pulled off her mask and shouted a profane word, behavior that was described by Barbieri as unacceptable at the beginning of the meeting.

Barbieri requested that Sullivan’s microphone be muted and asked her to remember that children were watching the meeting. The crowd booed. 

Three children spoke at the meeting, also voicing support for an opt-out option. 

Photo from Commissioner Robert Weinroth’s facebook

Burke and Barbieri did not discuss potential changes to the mandate during the meeting.

Commenters also accused the board of hypocrisy. Multiple speakers carried a printed-out photo featuring Board Member Alexandria Ayala, maskless, at a gala hosted by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County on Sept. 18. 

“COVID is, in fact, an intelligent virus. It knows the difference between a classroom and a dance floor at the Breakers… This virus is so smart that if you’re an elected official pushing an agenda to force masks and vaccinate children, you can break your own directives, ignoring CDC guidelines, and live life freely during these ‘dire times,’” one commenter said. 

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