In the wake of two turbulent school board meetings, Randall Bertrand was left wondering what all the sound and fury was about since many speakers’ loud and disruptive message was already made moot by school board votes or state policy.
Flagler County School Board
After facing a relatively small but angry group of parents who accused the district of wanting to balance school populations in part based on racial and socio-economic equity, the Flagler County school administration on Tuesday announced it was drastically scaling back what would have been a county-wide rezoning plan set for next year. The district is opting instead for rezoning that will affect only the two middle schools, the two high schools and the entirety of Palm Coast’s R-Section and parts of west Flagler, but none other.
Pointing to a need to “minimize the amount of time students are removed from in-person learning,” the Florida Department of Health on Wednesday issued a revised rule that gives parents more authority to decide whether children go to school after being exposed to people who have covid-19. The new rule replicates the same standard in effect for masking: it’s permissible, but only at parents’ discretion.
Even though there was no chance of a mask mandate, the Flagler County School Board meeting Tuesday evening again devolved into an ugly spectacle of anti-mask militancy that at times turned threatening, homophobic, Islamophobic and covid-denying, and required the meeting again to be briefly recessed and board members sent to a safe room.
The Flagler County School Board will vote on a rezoning plan in December, and on Tuesday will hear an updated, phased-in approach that will focus on the two middle schools first, where sixth graders will be shifted starting next year. Localized but intense opposition to rezoning plans compelled the administration to propose a more phased-in approach than a county-wide rezoning.
The Flagler County School Board’s day-long “retreat” on Sept. 9, designed to hone leadership and cohesion skills, was a grueling, at times a shocking display of mistrust, dysfunction, dissembling and exasperation by the board members as the fallout from recent issues revealed deep fissures. Whether the board can bridge huge gaps of mistrust remains uncertain.
In an unexpected turn, what the Flagler County school district thought was a mere formality before the County Commission turned into a 90-minute grilling by commissioners and a parade of doubt by builders who consider the district’s request to double impact fees ill-thought and ill-timed.
At least two school districts — Volusia and Lee — that previously adopted strict mask mandates have decided to allow parents to opt their students out of the policy for any reason, while a third, Indian River, now requires masks only at certain times when Covid-19 surges in isolated schools.
The Flagler County School Board on Sept. 7 adopted its property tax rate and $212 million budget for 2021-22. The tax rate, set by lawmakers in Tallahassee, continues a two-and-a-half decade downward trend, to $5.865 per $1,000 in taxable value, down from $6 last year.
Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler Health Department, discussed stronger covid-safety measures with the Flagler County School Board today, but in the end a majority of the board, citing the governor’s executive banning mask mandates, showed no inclination to adopt such measures as mandatory masking.