It was one of the Flagler County School Board’s more raucous meetings in recent memory this evening, with several key votes, including a rejection by the board, on a 3-2 vote, to restore a mask mandate in schools, with an opt-out provision.
That vote and most of the board’s business did not take place before the board attorney had the chamber, which was about three quarters full, cleared because the audience did not comply with board rules of decorum. Much of the crowd refused for over 20 minutes until eight or nine deputies summoned to the Government Services Building took the situation in charge, cleared the room and enabled the meeting to resume. The crowd was allowed back in later. (See the full meeting video below.)
The measure on masking was put on the table by School Board member Colleen Conklin, with Cheryl Massaro seconding. Conklin proposed a “universal” mask mandate in the school district during the ongoing covid surge. The emergency measure would have been in place for 90 days and would have applied only to students.
“I’m not going to sit here and do nothing, so if you want to vote it down, vote it down,” Conklin said, stressing her role as a board member intent on maximizing safety measures in the context of spiking infections.
It failed on a 3-2 vote, with Board Chairman Trevor Tucker and board members Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald opposed.
Conklin described the first proposal as “a universal mask policy that complies with the governor’s order and provides parents with an opt-out.” McDonald said the policy would make it “more difficult” to do “what they already have the freedom to do.” Woolbright, speaking for the first time at length on masks, said “it’s not about any of our personal opinions. It’s about you as a parent having the right to make a decision for your child, and why. And I’m telling you, if we have to fill out forms, Guess what, that’s just going to put another burden on the classroom teacher.” She said it was no one’s right to ask about vaccines or to have “passports” of the sort, and encouraged playing, fresh air and eating healthy.
Conklin tried to have masks on buses, and to have a universal mask mandate without opt-out: all failed.
It didn’t stop there: briefly, McDonald called for a workshop to discuss the school district’s agreements with the Flagler County Health Department. “The Health Department is the problem,” she said. But her attempt failed: there was no interest in such a workshop.
Those votes occurred more than three hours into the meeting, half of which had been devoted to the public-comment segment, when several dozens of people spoke–through online comments but mostly in person.
Some who spoke were for masks, most were opposed, or opposed to what limited district covid-safety measures are in place within state allowances, like quarantining for those exposed. Some of those in the anti group yelled, some threatened, some sneered, many spoke inaccuracies, misrepresenting the science or, in many cases, district procedures about Covid.
[Outside the chambers, after the room was cleared, a man intentionally coughed on others]:
“I understand that masks do not and cannot prevent everything,” one parent who spoke early on said. “However, any bit of protection is better than nothing. My daughter’s in third grade and is already home the second week of school due to being exposed to the virus at school. She is one of the few that does wear a mask and is still sick. I hate the comment to keep your child home if you are scared. I do not have the luxury to homeschool, as I need to work to help provide for my family. We should not have to choose between education and safety for our children.”
While several people echoed the sentiment, it was in the minority.
A woman who described herself as a representative of a newly formed group called “Moms for Liberty,” said “We the People are tired of how everything has been going. Last year I think it brought everything to light for us because we spent so much time at home.” She went on to speak about a speaker at Flagler Palm Coast High School who, she said, told the student assembly that “it’s OK to be trans,” before delivering standard transphobic language (“don’t bring it to school. It doesn’t belong in the school we don’t talk about that at our house”) and returning to anti-masking language (“they’re all sick of it, fabric does not protect your life, okay. It doesn’t save your life.”)
Some merely spoke in opposition to masks as a personal choice in compliance with the governor’s order, while others, including a preacher, connected mask-wearing to moral offenses and described the current divide as “evil against right,” evil being “the left.” Several people addressed the largely false or misinterpreted allegation by an Indian Trails Middle School parent that her child had been mistreated there once determined by the health department to have been a close contact to a potential covid-infected individual. Several people in the crowd had come out to support the parent, whose husband at one point shouted at the board from the podium.
A student addressed the board to say masks are her personal choice. “To all people that think you need a mask, respect me in my footsteps walking here to show you how I feel at the age of 13,” she said. “I have my whole life ahead of me, and I don’t plan to stop all of this for people who have a weakened immune system that force us children to wear a mask.”
That was all before the meeting degraded into defiance and chaos–many of those clapping said that should not be disallowed: it’s expression like any other–as much of the audience refused to comply with the board attorney’s directive not to cheer or clap between speakers, and she ordered the room cleared. But the crowd would not leave, and started screaming from the well:
“What authority does she have?”
“We don’t have to.”
“We don’t have to leave here.”
“Where’s the policy?”
“First off you can’t have a weapon on,” a sheriff’s deputy was heard telling one of the people in the chamber. “Second Amendment, sir,” the man replied.
“So I’m going to ask you to leave.”
And so it went, some of the crowd exiting, much of it not. Two school board members–Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald–tried to speak with the crowd but were unsuccessful. District staff and most of the board members walked out to the area behind the dais as more deputies arrived. More people walked out, about three dozen of them gathering by the flagpole outside or in the lobby, then mostly in the lobby, crowding by the door to the chamber, some of them taking video with their phones, some continuing to yell out.
The recess lasted a little less than half an hour. When the board resumed its meeting, only the staff was in the room, and the four remaining speakers were allowed in one by one to address the board. That done, the board continued its agenda, and at 8:15 p.m. what was left of the crowd was allowed back in.
There was another round of public comment at the tail end of the meeting, shorter–the chamber had largely emptied by then–again breaking down along the same lines. But by then a lot of the hostility had shifted toward the health department and “the radical leftist named Bob Snyder,” in the words of Mark Phillips, the man temporarily trespassed from Palm Coast City Hall. Snyder is the head of the local Health Department, and was one of three people whose resignation speakers called for. The others were a school principal and Conklin.
McDonald, buoyed by the anti-masking votes and Woolbright’s statement, closed with her final comments by again speaking against the Centers for Disease Control, Anthony Fauci, the local and mainstream media, she mischaracterized the number of covid-fatalities and covid testing (“a false test”), quarantining, contact tracing, “hide-and-seek science,” and so on. “We’ve been abused by many more people than our local,” she said, referring to both local media and the local health department, which she said “gets monetized” for its contact tracing and vaccines (it does not).
“I’m glad to see that we the people in Flagler County are active tonight,” Woolbright said for her part among her closing remarks.
It was a sign of the evening’s tenor, if not that of the past 18 months, that the single most consequential vote the school board did take this evening, a significant increase in school impact fees (the board approved), might as well have been a footnote.
The meeting adjourned at 10 p.m.