The covid infection rate in Flagler County is higher than it’s ever been in the 18-month pandemic, and higher than in all but three countries in the world. For weeks, however, there’s been a disconnect between the severity of the crisis as experienced by individuals and at the hospital, where two-thirds of the beds are taken up by covid patients, and in the community at large, even on local government boards, where elected officials urging vaccination and caution have been the exception, not the rule.
That disconnect was on full display Tuesday at the end of a Flagler County School Board meeting. School Board member Colleen Conklin, a 21-year veteran of the board, has never been bashful about speaking her mind, the less so when speaking about students and staff safety. But as she broached the matter of covid safety on Tuesday, even her preface was all nervous diffidence.
She knew the score. David Bossardet, the district’s safety specialist, had earlier in the meeting briefed the board about the district’s new pandemic protocols as school resumes Tuesday. The protocols are more striking by their absence than by their substance. Buses will run at full capacity. No masking will be required, or even encouraged. No vaccination will be required of children 12 and over, or of teachers and staff. No social distancing will be required. It’ll be a do-as-you-can approach. There’ll be no remote learning. There’ll be no restrictions on visitors. In other words, it’ll be just like pre-covid.
The current covid spike is making no difference.
“Considering where we are right now in our community, and obviously our Covid numbers are going up,” Board member Cheryl Massaro asked Bossardet, “is there going to be some kind of plan to reapply to re-evaluating our particular structure between now and a month from now?”
Bossardet circled to No. “I can’t give you a definite answer of, you know, at what point would we reevaluate. We just continue to monitor cases and right now we are seeing a significant amount of cases in Florida and even in our county,” Bossardet said. “I am confident in our plan as it stands. But we won’t hesitate to make any changes that are necessary, and obviously there’s guidance from the federal level, guidance from the state level, and sometimes those always don’t match up. So it’s trying to navigate what works for us and what’s best for our students and staff.”
It isn’t clear what it would take for necessary changes to kick in, given the last two weeks’ totals of over 1,300 infections in the county–a number that at times was more in live with statewide totals for a week, than for a county of just 116,000 people.
So Conklin, after acknowledging her colleagues speaking about how excited they were about the new school-year, began: “I don’t want to sit here and act like or pretend that there’s not a concern with the new delta variant, and want to share some information, and I know we all have a different opinion on this, and that’s fine,” she said. She spoke of Florida leading the nation in the rate of children hospitalized for Covid, and how the virus is spreading faster–if not fastest–than previously among children. Children are spreading it more efficiently, according to the latest data. Conklin questioned the erosion of local control inherent in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on mask requirements in schools in spite of overwhelming evidence about the cheap, accessible, immediate, efficient and significant measure of safety afforded by masks.
No one is calling for closing schools or reverting to distance-learning models, she said, focusing instead on safety measures not taken to ensure continuity in school. “Even if we all have a difference of opinion. Even if members of the community have a difference of opinion, we were elected locally by our community members to make decisions just like this,” Conklin said, coming as close as she did to suggesting that the board should overrule the governor on masks.
She didn’t cross that line: she would not have the votes, even with Massaro’s support. Board member Jill Woolbright isn’t taking a position (she says it’s not her policy decision, would not challenge a state order but would not be opposed to masks one way or the other, if that’s what the administration decided. An eastrlkier version of this article mis-characterized her position as adamantly opposed). Janet McDonald is adamantly opposed. Board Chairman Trevor Tucker, whose pragmatism has moved him left over the years, would have been the only realistic swing vote, but not on this. “I would be opposed to going against the Governor’s current executive order at this time,” Tucker said on Thursday. “We are in a difficult situation trying to navigate the different guidance from the federal, state, and local levels. I personally believe parents should have a choice about their children wearing masks, just as they have the choice for virtual, traditional, or home school. I also encourage any person who is eligible to receive the vaccine to get vaccinated.” (Woolbright notes it’s not the board’s decision either way, but an operational, or administrative, decision.)
The governor’s executive order defers to the state health department “to provide guidance and adopt rules in consultation with DOE,” the Department of Education, she said. “Where’s the guidance, where’s the plan, because we have not been provided with one. But we’ve been threatened to have funds withheld.”
Locally, Health Department Chief Bob Snyder has publicly urged masking indoors, in schools, in accordance with CDC directives. But DeSantis has continuously sent a different message. While he couches his masking language as a choice for parents, his approach has consistently and unmistakably reflected hostility about masks–a hostility reflected in the recent executive order, his push have the state Board of Education provide vouchers to students who would rather attend private schools if they have an issue with masks, and his threat to call a special session to ban mask mandates by law, in schools, if districts persist in defying him. While 62 percent of Floridians support requiring masks in schools, DeSantis’s hostility has given succor to anti-mask parents, who tend to be loud–and scornful: several of them pointedly stood up and walked out of the board room as Conklin spoke.
But they’ve had guidance from the board itself. At one point in Conklin’s comments she spoke of her recent contacts with an emergency room physician at AdventHealth Palm Coast, who sent her–in his words–”Irrefutable objective evidence of mask effectiveness. Conklin relayed what she’d learned from the ER physician about Palm Coast’s own conditions with Covid. Yet as Conklin spoke, McDonald repeatedly shook her head “No.”
It was an astounding contrast: one board member speaking of the scientific, on-the-ground analysis of a Palm Coast ER physician, and another rejecting the account as bogus–as McDonald had rejected other accounts earlier in the meeting.
McDonald often disseminates inaccurate or baseless information about Covid, at times dangerously so. She opposed the mask requirement when it was in effect last year and attempted several times to end it. McDonald was at it again on Tuesday, directing the public against “mainstream media” sources and toward what she calls “more information that’s available, readily available, on the internet,” where disinformation has been rife. “It’s vital that people take in more information than we’re getting from our local media sources,” she said, though Covid reporting by those sources has been grounded in CDC, Health Department and local physicians’ recommendations. McDonald again gave outright false information about the number of covid deaths last year and the claim that “this illness is being monetized.”
Conklin got no reaction from the rest of the board when she was done with her remarks, and the board soon adjourned.
But earlier in the meeting, while Bossardet was presenting, Conklin had asked directly: ““Are we allowed to even have a conversation or discussion about considering masking in dense areas, when kids are on the bus and they’re sitting three to a seat or two to a seat or they’re in the high school and they’re exchanging classes in the hallway, we’ve got kids right up against each other. Do school districts have the ability to mandate or require masks in those types of situations?”
Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney, did not respond directly but said any masking requirements would have to come from the state, returning the issue to its non-starting position.
Dr. Eduardo Oliveira, executive medical director of critical care services at AdventHealth Central Florida, is clearer: “I understand the current controversy with respect to masks,” he said during a media briefing Thursday. “But we know the mask is an additional level of protection. Nothing is 100 percent, correct? So we can’t be under the illusion that wearing masks will protect kids from getting Covid 100 percent of the time, but that occasional contact, that contact in which they are sort of passing in the hallway or someone is coughing, you can prevent getting infected the same way that you could prevent yourself from getting infected from the flu.” He stressed: “Any level of protection or any additional protection that you can utilize will prevent one from getting Covid.”
There has been a sense at the school board, whether willingly or not, that the administration’s hands are tied, as Brian McMillan, the editor of the Palm Coast Observer, described it this morning on WNZF’s Free For All Fridays: “They’re in, like, an impossible situation because the people who are anti mask are so incredibly vocal, and some would cause such a headache and a problem at the schools if they required them,” McMillan said. “So I can understand why you would really want to avoid the masks.” (The public comments that preceded the workshop on Tuesday reflected the searing divisions on the matter.)
McMillan echoed Bossardet’s assurance that the district would monitor the situation and react appropriately. Citing the district’s relative successes last year in containing the virus, McMillan said: “Maybe we should give the school board some slack and see what happens. At the same time, how do you eliminate the Governor DeSantis politics from this whole situation? You really can’t. And that also ties their hands dramatically. So what do you? How big of a fight do you want to pick with the people who are adamantly anti mask and with Ron DeSantis at the same time.”
Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler Health Department, who has pushed mask-wearing, is worried about what’s ahead in the school district: “What I’m most afraid of is that the policy that we have going into the next few weeks is pretty likely to resolve in a lot of cases, and a lot of kids out of school,” he said. “What we’re hoping is that we adapt to that. If that happens then adjustments are made. The school board has–I mean the school staff, administrators, have shown a readiness to be open minded, as the facts change, and so we’re just hoping to work with them and adjust.”
Bossardet addressing the school board Tuesday spoke of the rapid testing that will be available through the Health Department to diminish quarantining of students and staff. The testing will be available at the Health Department and a testing site at the county airport, in the morning and the evening (the district did not want it on campus), as long as participants agree to be tested every other day. As long as they’re negative, the students and staffers can return to school rather than quarantine.
“It keeps kids in school, we don’t have the remote-live anymore,” Massaro said. “So quarantining is going to academically affect our kids, greater than it did even last year.”
The contact-tracing process is not changing. When a student or staff member is found to be covid-positive, the Health Department will find out who that person has had close contacts, and those individuals will have a choice: either go through the 10-day rapid testing process, or quarantine for 10 days. But that applies only to the unvaccinated. Bossardet said there are no recommendations for the vaccinated to go through either quarantining or the rapid-testing process–as long as they are not showing symptoms.
“Even though we’re not offering the remote-live option this year,” Bossardet said, “our school leaders are working on very creative ways to try to get additional instruction to any student who’s missing school, whether it’s before-school tutoring virtually or after-school tutoring virtual. They’re working on plans to try to help alleviate some of those stresses.”
The 2021-22 School Covid Protocols:
I don’t know who exactly. But it is very clear that someone has the intention to bring harm to the children of Flagler County. Someone, or a group of people who are in charge have I’ll intentions towards the youth.
So will there be a voucher program available to students who want to wear masks and not be forced into a dangerous situation?
Will there still be a virtual learning program for those who would like to not go back to the covid breeding ground?
Karen Curry says
There is a offer for vouchers to attend a private school for those parents who do not wish for their children to sit in a petri dish of COVID’s newest ravenous variant that’s developed a taste for children. It’s a win-win for Covidiot elected officials, it shuts up the parents that actually value their children & plays into the Republikkklans agenda to do away with public schools.
OOKI thought the voucher was for parents who didn’t want their kids to wear masks it’s not for parents who do want their kids to wear a mask
Trailer Bob says
“Compared to adults, children diagnosed with Covid-19 are more likely to have mild symptoms or none at all. Children are also far less likely to develop severe illness, be hospitalized or die from the disease. Out of about 3.5 million cases of Covid-19 in children in the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics has reported, as of July 28, that 519 children have died from Covid-19 (fewer than 0.015 percent), including 346 children 5 to 17 years of age, and 173 children 4 or younger. Children with underlying medical conditions are the most likely to be hospitalized. Black and Hispanic children also had higher rates of hospitalization, although overall risk remained low. Some children infected with Covid may develop a rare but serious inflammatory syndrome. By the end of June the C.D.C. had documented 4,196 cases (about 0.1 percent of all pediatric Covid), including 37 deaths.”
With that said, and these are the statistics many school officials and politicians are looking at, it is really not an all or none issue and it is not very easy or comfortable to make these decision when young children dying is involved. I certainly am relieved that I do not have to make these decisions.
In the end, perhaps (and I don’t know) parents should be the ones to decide if they feel going to school for their children is safe enough for them or not. Personally, like it matters, I would find it a very difficult decision. Personally, I would consider homeschooling if I had school age younger children. Call me a wimp…I would never want to be responsible for the death of a child or making what ends up to be a bad decision. One way or another though, I feel there should be a distancing of at least 5 feet and mask should be up to the parents…I know my kids would be told to wear a mask..and not the useless one we see being worn by those we are relying on to keep us safe with good data…N95 masks have been proven to be the only one that actually work as describe. We aren’t talking about sawdust here.
Ray W. says
Trailer Bob makes many good points and he hints at the point I am about to make, which is that it isn’t just about that small percentage of children dying; it is also about another small percentage, albeit a larger category, of children who suffer long-term physical effects from the virus, from brain and lung injury to loss of the capacity to taste food, among other presentations. I have a friend (my wife’s best friend) who lost her sense of taste to a Covid infection. What little sense of taste that returned now means everything tastes like rotting garbage. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. She has lost a significant amount of weight simply because she can’t stand the taste of anything she has to force herself to eat.
I have that! It’s called parosmia, and it’s horrible! Everything smells and tastes like rotting dead animals!
More than one child from Covid is one to many!
This info regarding children is old. The Delta variant seems to affect children pretty seriously. Poor parents sending kids off to school with schools NOT even encouraging face masks, full capacity on buses unmasked, visitors allowed, no masks, no social distance recommendations. What a recipe for disaster.
Nanci Whitley says
We don’t let parents decide if their child should be in a seatbelt. When it comes to safety, sometimes parents need to be directed.
Mad as he** says
This is shameful! There are so many cases in Flagler County right now you can’t even get an appointment for a test till at least next week, and for that you have to go out of county. While Governor DeSantis and the legislature have effectively tied the hands of the school districts, he has also conveniently had the state stop reporting hospitalizations of children due to Covid. Isn’t that helpful? I understand there are a variety of opinions on masks, however, facts cannot continue to be ignored. While living in the same household as someone positive with this disease, we wore masks around one another and limited exposure. As a result, the two other household members remained covid free even though we had to quarantine in the same small space together for two weeks. I implore the school board members and head of administration to stand up for what’s right and protect our children and staff members. When this all goes sideways, they will have to live with the knowledge their inaction and cowardice caused death and loss. Shame on you!!
Hell with kids bring in the tourists … is that what this state wants?
The question is what will the parents do? Vote the Repubs out of office, people didn’t like Gillium so this is what you get. We have the power to vote DeSantis out of office. Parents are suppose to care for the children, Donald Trumps puppet is suppose to lead the state. How is he leading? People will vote him in agsin,again, what I say. We have the power to get this person out of office, will we use the power we have? We c what this man is about. What are we going to do? We’ve got to vote this man out if office, we have the power, we’ve got to use it. Come on people let us vote this sorry puppet out of office we can do this but will we? Come 9n guys let is vote him out of office.
Bill C says
The definition of reckless endangerment: “the offense of recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death to another person”. DeSantis should be charged with a criminal felony.
It really is a travesty. What is it going to take? I guess death of our children.Use your common sense and keep your child home. The numbers will keep going up. All elected officials in Flagler will have to look in the mirror. They are not pro active. They are reactive. I stand with the Mayor of Flagler Beach. Get vaccinated to save not only your lives but your families lives.
What Else Is New says
Looks like Governor Dictatorial is showing his red colors touting his firm decision to make sure more people die of the dreaded COVID and Delta. This is a read bad guy. A true GQP.
Merrill S Shapiro says
In the AdvancED Flagler County Schools Performance Accreditation and the Engagement Review, our School Board is called upon to “Create a motivating, personalized educational experience that supports a safe 21st Century learning and working environment in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.” Again, “safe 21st Century learning.” Where’s the safety here?
Also, when will our school board begin to lead, organize and marshall “we the people” the citizens of Flagler County, to rise up and wrest control of our school from Tallahassee bureaucrats who often have difficulty finding Flagler County on a map?
We have only one voice of reason on the school board.
Our Governor wants to kill our children.
He controls the county Board of Health, hides COVID counts, and threatens to withhold state funding for schools that require face masks. Face masks that protect children for which there is no vaccine.
Parents please consider carefully your child’s health. Perhaps keeping your child home for another month or two , would protect them.!
By Halloween, we will have to listen to Republicans saying that no one could have seen this coming. The School board should have voted so that no one could say they were for masks, but knew they would have been voted down. Once more, Flagler County has put politics above their children.
To me it is eerie that all these variables are coming together to result in what could be the Perfect Storm in Schools this Fall in Florida. Lack of Leadership and denying what Science knows could make alot of innocent people very sick or worse. God Bless
Jane Gentile-Youd says
The refusal to face the most deadly virus to every fall upon us, the extreme blindness coupled with the cult-like refusal to accept its every increasing deadly march is going to continue to destroy what is left of ” do onto others as you would have them do onto you” mantra many of us were brought up to respect.
If Governor of Death ( who I ‘used to’ respect) continues to risk our lives with extremely dangerous and totalitarian political insane ‘science’ he should criminally charged with each and every ‘ otherwise avoidable and unnecessary death) be removed from office in shackles. I voted for De Santis but I never voted to give him the potential to destroy my life .
Children are not only at risk to become very ill they can be CARRIERS to mom, pop, grandma, grandpa, sisters, brothers, friends, of this KILLER virus.
Shame on those ,whom I have otherwise respect for , who have become utterly selfish and totally blind to the destruction their ‘groupie’ witchcraft science is affecting us all.
Where were you when seat belts became mandatory? Where were you when Smoking was prohibited in (and around) public buildings? Where were you when our county had ‘compulsory military registration and draft’?
Where were you (where) are you not objecting to the automatic polio and smallpox vaccinations?
Why don’t you just get in your cars, don’t bother with your seat belts, drive at whaetever speed you want, don’t worry about your alcohol level, because of you constitutional rights. Driver’s license and proof of insurance? Hey, you bought the car , it’s yours- nobody’s damn business..
It’s all our business; those who are and who will pay the price of your ignorance, selfishness and blindness. Shame on all you, yes including some of my very own ‘friends’ for having NO respect for anyone.
Put on a stinking piece of cloth over your mouth when you are near anyone else who God gave as much right to live as he did YOU.
Ex Florida teacher says
I resigned after 20 years teaching in Flagler. They don’t care about anything but standardized test scores.
Moved out of Florida too. Best move ever.
invisible enemy…everyone down range…deliberate, reckless endangerment…parents and teachers and kids please Cover your nose and mouth for everyone’s sake.
The second part of that statement will be done by me sooner than later
Trailer Bob says
OK…here’s an idea…wear a mask if you want, as NO ONE is stopping you from doing that.
Get vaccinated if you like…it is free and available all over the place.
After going into public places, spray your hands with rubbing alcohol. I have no problem doing those things.
All you can do is take care of yourself. You cannot change most people’s minds on this.
At home and at my local pub, I am fine, other places in public I have the option to wear a mask (an N95 mask) and distance myself from others. My God! Just spend you energy on taking care of yourselves and you families. People are going to do as they please.
Have your children wear a mask where and when you think it is appropriate. Talk is cheap…actions speak louder than words, as they say…
Angela Biggs says
FL has over 180 pediatric cases throughout the state right now!!! Not mandating masks in every district is a mistake and will seriously endanger children and school workers. It is blatantly ignorant to go against the hundreds and hundreds of medical experts that have begged for superintendents, school boards, and the conspiracy theory believing governor. A sixteen year old died two days ago and there are many other children in ICU in Florida right now. If we do not want to see Flagler county children fall ill and end up in hospitals then why don’t we do the “right thing” whether Desantis says no or not.
Can we just pretend school is just an Obama birthday party? Then everything is ok….. For all of you complaining about Desantis…. get a clue… why did Florida cases go up with the variant?? Think about it… be honest and think about it… then ask yourself why the “lock down states” are now catching up quickly as Florida starts to ramp down. If you are vulnerable go get a shot if you chose to. If not then it’s on you. I have seen the virus ravage several friends who thought they did not need it. Their body their choice.
Just stop the political bullshit and the fear mongering. Desantis proved lock downs don’t work. He protected the vulnerable and saved the Florida economy while the hero of the left, Cuomo, got an Emmy, wrote a book and is fawned over by the left. And for what? For killing thousands of elderly by sending them back to nursing homes, tried to hide it, destroyed New York’s economy and has residents of his state, trying to escape and move to Florida…..
I know lets pretend what you think doesnt matter then move on to an alternate reality like the orange blowhard in Palm Beach. Then we can make like its all the Big Lie and have an Insurrection and then thats Ok OK? Does that make sense