By Randall Bertrand
Behavior and decorum at the previous two Flagler County school board business meetings have me scratching my head. I have a question for those using the public comments agenda item as a forum to express their beliefs. What’s your message? What do you want to have the School District do?
First, let me start by stating that I consider the podium that provided for public comment at local public government meetings as a designated public forum with all the free speech protections afforded such a setting. I may not like what is said up there, but in no way am I looking to infringe upon anyone’s First Amendment right to say and claim what they want within the confines of the law. Let me also say, as a person that has attended and spoken at many Flagler County School Board meetings, that it’s easy to get carried away with one’s nerves, frayed and adrenaline flowing. I say that as a meeting participant who has gotten emotional at that podium, and also as someone who has at times pushed and even broken meeting rules.
My question remains: What’s the message?
It seems so long ago that my family and many members of this community gathered to petition the school district to add “gender identity” to the district’s non-discrimination policy. You may agree or disagree with this request. But the message was always clear every time I took to the podium. I wanted these specific words added to the non-discrimination policy–period. That effort took 14 long months to achieve, with many heartbreaks and setbacks along the way. Many people questioned why I asked for this. Recent hate-filled anti-LGBTQ+ activity in Bartram Trail High School just up the road in St. Johns County should make the need for explicit protection of these kids quite clear.
Now, let’s get back to those two school board meetings. Many people have stood up in both meetings expressing, often shouting and raging rhetoric about how they don’t want a mask mandate in Flagler County Schools.
Right now, there is no mask mandate. The Aug. 17 meeting witnessed the effort to enact a mask mandate in schools voted down, 3-2. The way things are going–between falling covid numbers and court decisions–there’s never going to be a mask mandate. What is the point of railing against something that doesn’t exist? What’s your message?
Next, I’ve also seen speakers upset about quarantine protocols in place at the district level. Well, there’s now new guidance from the State Surgeon General that allows parents to make decisions on quarantine procedures for non-symptomatic individuals that have been exposed. The district didn’t do this. I can only imagine the quarantine procedures from the district were risk-based. So, the request here is to have the district assume a bunch of risk because you don’t like it? Our memories seem rather short lately, so let’s not forget that the principal of one of our High Schools lost his battle with covid-19.
After all this, my question remains. What’s the message? What are you asking the district to change? If you make your request specific, and not bloviate at the podium, you might get some people to listen rather than roll their eyes. The diatribe does not work. Trust me, I know. Be consistent and concise in your request, not disjointed and unclear. You will see more effective results from your efforts.
Randall Bertrand is a Palm Coast resident and parent of a recent graduate of Flagler Palm Coast High School.