Students’ quarantines in Flagler County schools have been simple, routine and uncontroversial since their implementations last year. But a parent’s misinterpretations, mischaracterizations and falsehoods about the way Indian Trails Middle School and the county Health Department handled the quarantine of her son Monday caught the attention of the school district, the department and at least one international media outlet.
The fluidity of the pandemic’s responses has caused misunderstandings and made it difficult at times for school or even health department officials to keep up with messages mutating at the speed of the virus. But the Indian Trails case illustrates how easily inaccurate information is misused to politically tendentious ends–it’s led to a call for a showdown before the school board this evening–or inflated into non-existent problems or false claims.
Among those are the outright falsehood that Indian Trails was requiring that students be vaccinated, or that “You do not have to comply to tests, quarantines or vaccination.” The parts about tests and vaccines are correct. The part about quarantines is not–at least not as far as not being able to attend school if exposed and unvaccinated, even if asymptomatic, or covid-positive.
On Monday, the Flagler County school district reported that five students at Indian Trails Middle School had tested positive for Covid-19. They were among 30 students and nine employees reported to have tested positive over the weekend and through Monday.
Those who tested positive are required to quarantine at home for 10 days. As it does every morning, the Flagler County Health Department sent Indian Trails a list of the students considered to be close contacts with those who tested positive. Usually, but not always, the health department contacts students’ parents ahead of time and informs them that the child who had close contact must quarantine at home at least four days, unless the child is vaccinated or has had Covid in the previous 90 days. In those cases, the quarantine is unnecessary.
At times, close-contact or covid-positive information is conveyed to the school during the school day (Covid test results can take several days to return), or a student required to quarantine shows up anyway. In those cases, the student is taken to a “quarantine room” –there is one on every campus–where the student is required to wait until a parent picks him, her or them up. The students are spaced out in the quarantine room.
That’s how hundreds of close-contact or covid-positive cases were handled in Flagler County schools all of last year. That’s how the 85 cases of positive students and their much larger number of close contacts have been treated so far this year, albeit with potentially much shorter quarantine periods. The state Health Department issued this year’s rules earlier this month. Community disagreements are rife about the school district’s mask-no-mask approach, but aside from occasional misunderstandings, instances of frustration among parents or the occasional confusion over required quarantining days, parents and students have adapted.
On Monday, Jessico Bowman, the mother of a student at Indian Trails, was called to the school to pick up her son, who had been listed as a close contact of a covid-positive student. She’d sent her son to school despite being advised by the health department on Sunday to hold him back. (“I was contacted on Sunday at 3:22 p.m. by what appears to be a cell phone number of somebody claiming to be with the health department,” she told the school board this evening.) She filed a report with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office claiming that her son was “isolated, detained and banned from his public school and education without a plan for his curriculum”–all false. She claimed “no one was able to articulate a reason of law, ordinance or mandate for these actions,” also false. The district posts an easy-to-understand “decision tree” that graphically translates state orders into a chart. It also includes a clink further clarifying the latest rule regarding students exposed to covid or deemed covid-positive.
“This was just a classic example of us following our protocol, relative to the state Surgeon General’s emergency rule, which was promulgated and communicated two Fridays ago,” Bob Snyder, the Flagler County Health Department’s administrator, said today. “Our case investigators and contact tracers have a script that they follow so that they stick to the rule and the direction and guidance provided for each scenario, each different scenario.” In essence, Snyder said, “the bottom line is we did a case investigation. We followed the protocol. And this person was deemed to be a close contact.”
Bowman said she was told by the health department that if her son was “vaccinated or proves vaccination he can return” to class, which is true. The department provides those options, but does not compel them. And the school never required a vaccine.
Bowman is a member of the so-called Republican Liberty Caucus of Flagler County, a local group that’s espoused extremist views such as Trump having won last November, that has been part of Flagler Beach’s obscenity-laced “Trump Won” demonstrations on Saturdays, and that briefly cast doubt on the results of the recent mayoral election in Palm Coast. Earlier today, either Bowman or an associate on the caucus’s Facebook page claimed that “The child and his parents were told that everything could go back to normal if he were to just get vaccinated,” implying, falsely, that the school or the district were pushing the vaccine, and implying, also falsely, that if the child were to get vaccinated immediately, he could return to school. That’s not how the vaccine works.
“As far as vaccination, we don’t check that, we don’t ask that, that’s not our purview,” Jason Wheeler, the district’s chief spokesman, said today. “It’s not required by the state, so it’s not on a shot record. I don’t know where that came from.”
In her sheriff’s report, Bowman cited a religious exemption from vaccination for her son (Florida law provides for such an exemption), but then goes on to claim, falsely, that “his religious rights were violated by these actions.” The district and the health department followed Florida law, and the religious exemption has no relevance to the quarantine requirement. She also states that her son may return to school on Aug. 21 (with a negative covid rapid test taken on Aug. 20), which is accurate, but would have to remain on quarantine a full seven days absent a test–also accurate, though Bowman’s repeated claim that his religious rights would be violated is not.
“Religious exemption or not, we need to follow the protocols so that other individuals are not put in harm’s way,” Snyder said.
The case would not have drawn attention were it not for Bowman publicizing it on Facebook–and disseminating the false claims–while calling for a “call to action” from residents to show up at this evening’s school board meeting to protest: “We will not bow down to this government tyranny!” one of her or her associates’ Facebook post read. The false claims quickly caught on in social media spheres ripe for conspiratorial fabrications or uncritical sharing of falsehoods (one of Bowman’s posts was shared on Flagler Parents, a more moderate page), with falsehood building upon falsehood and drawing further attention. “Never should a kid be taken to a room and interrogated like a criminal,” Joe Mullins, the fact-challenged county commissioner, posted on his Facebook page this afternoon, reposting more of the grossest fabrications that even Bowman stayed away from: “Students at a Flagler County Middle School this morning reported being stopped at the front door, asked if they were 💉. The students who refused to answer were taken to an isolation room and were not allowed to speak to one another. The students texted what was happening to their parents.”
Copying school board members on emails aside, Bowman fueled the social media agitation with one of her type of groups’ favorite tactics: the ambush-like video encounter with an official that frames the moment in a presumption–usually false, in this case demonstrably false–of wrongdoing being uncovered or documented. The target in one particular video Bowman posted was Ryan Andrews, the new principal at Indian Trails Middle School, who brought Bowman her son as she waited in the lobby, video rolling. (Andrews had no issue with the recording but would have been in his right to forbid video recording in a school, where students’ privacy rights override ordinary presumptions of public spaces.)
“They didn’t even tell me where they were from, what health department they’re with, or what their name was,” Bowman tells Andrews. (There is just one health department: it’s a state agency with county offices, such as the Flagler County Health Department.) Then she insists to know how the department could tell her son was a close contact–a fair question that the department has answered on its site: “Close contacts are those individuals who have been within six feet of an infected individual for a cumulative of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, regardless of mask usage.”
But neither the department nor the school district reveal who or how an individual has been exposed in school, where privacy laws controlling students’ identities, or any identifying information, prevail.
“I don’t need anyone’s personal information,” Bowman told Andrews, “I just need to know where, maybe what class, what day, I mean as a parent I need to know that. Maybe the severity level, things like that.” While none of those details would necessarily infringe on a student’s privacy rights–and might give a parent a greater sense of understanding of a child’s exposure–the district itself does not have that information. It operates on the health department’s list, which Bowman and her associates sees in sinister terms: “Wouldn’t we all like to know what list that is?” they ask on Facebook.
Bowman did not ask Andrews the questions he could have answered–about her son’s curriculum, though she did so in a subsequent email. Andrews explained how her son could keep up, and apologized “for any improper treatment to you and your son today,” though it was difficult to detect where, in Bowman’s own videos and emails, she had been improperly treated. (At the end of her exchange with Andrews she said she wasn’t trying to be difficult. “You are,” he replied, a defensible statement considering how easily, and with a few clocks on the school board’s Covid-related pages, Bowman would have had answers to most of her questions.)
As did the district. “I know that we do have procedures in place,” Wheeler said, referring to the district’s one-to-one provision for a take-home computer in each student’s hands, “since we are one to one, especially middle school, they have a device, and there are lesson plans loaded up on the devices, and there are steps that they can take to speak with the teacher on a daily basis. So it’s not like the remote-live where it’s real time and everything like that. It’s just like if, if you were home with chickenpox and you had an extended illness, It’s the same basic same plan that we use with that.”
By Today, Wheeler had received an inquiry from the Epoch Times, an extreme right-wing publication, asking him why Flagler schools were requiring vaccines. They’re not. (Last October the New York Times called the Epoch Times “a partisan powerhouse” and a “global-scale misinformation machine that has repeatedly pushed fringe narratives into the mainstream.“)
Meanwhile Charles Bowman, Jessico’s husband, was urging his followers on Facebook on Monday to “disregard” mandates. “Bring your kids to school tomorrow and if they want to play ball, we’ll sue them. Period.” He tagged Anthony Sabatini, the racist Florida House Republican and election-result denier who’s also routinely denied the severity of the pandemic and been militantly against covid-safety measures.
But even the Bowmans are complying. Bowman’s son was not at school today.
The Indian Trails case may have made more noise, but it doesn’t alter the reality, Snyder said: “We’ve had complete cooperation, outside of last year, some parents yelling and screaming and being angry and just frustrated, just frustrated over the situation,” he said. “Everyone cooperated and so far that’s been the case. That’s why I asked the question: was the young man in school today?” The answer was no, “he was not in school today.”
Meanwhile, the number of patients hospitalized with Covid at AdventHealth Palm Coast reached a new record today: 92, a day after Snyder revealed that the pandemic’s fourth wave has been killing Flagler residents at the rate of three per day in the last two weeks.
Grey Man says
In this particular article you described the Epoch Times as far right wing, blatantly called Anthony Sabatini a racist, and the Republican Liberty caucus as extremist.
Since you seem to be putting off the air of transparency would you also like to call your outlet a liberal far left publication or do you only label things you disagree with?
Pissed in PC says
Wow you must really be blind cause it’s only the far right publications that’s causing discord, Janet McDonald has cited their articles as fact to get rid of safety precautions in schools (they promote no masks, vaccines are a mark of the devil and TFG is still president). It’s a well known fact that Sabatini is a full blown racist and the Liberty coalition is a domestic terrorist organization as they all went to DC to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power and kill members of Congress. It’s time to take off your orange colored glasses, stop drinking the Orange kool aid and move into reality.
Percy's mother says
1. I’m bloody sick and tired of Jessico Bowman, her husband, and all the others she hangs with on social media, AND THAT INCLUDES Joe Mullins and The Fake Pastor . . . you know, that woman of God who quotes Bible verses by day, has her own “radio show”, operates on social media calling for the boycott of certain businesses, works by night on social media to destroy the local free press, badmouths people for being liars and holds anti-vaccination rallies in the community . . .
2. It should be noted that Joe Mullins AND the Fake Pastor hosted an ANTI-VACCINE rally at Church on the Rock back in May of 2021 with the featured in-person speaker being none other than the woman who was arrested for entering the capitol building on January 6, 2021, a rabid anti-vaxxer called Dr. Simone Gold. Both Joe Mullins and the Fake Pastor introduced this woman as the featured speaker for the May 2021 anti-vaccination rally at Church on the Rock. The Fake Pastor then followed up that anti-vaccination rally by having Dr. Simone Gold on her “radio show”.
3. Add #1 and #2, then add all the Alan Lowe supporters, Ed Danko who refuses to wear a mask, Flagler Liberty Coalition, Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, Jay Mahr, Victor Barbosa, and you end up with this story which basically is a citizenry out of control, a county commissioner out of control and people sitting on social media all day and every evening whipping themselves into a frenzy about NOTHING.
I have worked at the Florida Department of Health as a biological scientist during the pandemic so I am familiar with the procedures. This is just another case of a far right group of people in this community INCLUDING JOE MULLINS AND THE FAKE PASTOR, taking an insignificant piece of procedural information and creating outrage out of it.
The two worst subversives in Flagler County are the two best friends and two peas in a pod, JOE MULLINS and THE FAKE PASTOR. They operate mostly behind the scenes sewing discord and wreaking havoc wherever they go.
Remember this come time to vote in 2022.
These people will believe a meme over someone that has actually created vaccines that cured diseases and saved lives. There is a very serious mental health crisis in this country and yes, it was exposed and brought to life by Trump. Just read some of what they believe. It’s like a fantasy novel come to life. It really is amazing what people believe when they see a “very convincing” meme on FakeBook. I’d say it’s sad but it’s rather pathetic.
G A says
Apparently, we have yet another Karen in Palm Coast. I have found several of them posting on some local FB pages. We also have a male Karen….whose name is Joe Mullins. Both of these prototypes are a trove of misinformation, screaming, noise, and rectal gas. They seem to believe that if they are loud enough, that drowns out any common sense that normally would be required if speaking. Just scream the lie as loud as possible and it’s all good. There is a serious gap between what is real and what is fantasy. (Gee, where did they get THAT from??)
Frankly, I’d love the tank handle to be pulled on these Karens and Joes, and see them flushed right out of Flagler County. We do not need or want their noise or constant BS and drama.
Yeah but it’s so much easier to have kneejerk reactions and pretend to be experts on subjects thanks to duh internets.
Pissed In PC says
It’s past time the Liberty coalition be treated like domestic terrorists! Plus any parent knowingly sending their child to school that’s Covid positive needs to be arrested for having a biological weapon which also falls under domestic terrorism.
Karen Curry says
The Bowman’s need to apologize publicly to the Flagler School District, Flagler’s Health Dept., the Indian Trails school administration, the staff, students & parents for this calculated misrepresentation of facts to further their personal twisted agenda. I doubt that will happen as neither appear to be responsible adults.
This piece is well written until I see the comment of calling people a racist. But yet you are talking down on this woman’s behavior and having an opinion? Disgraceful.
Grey Man says
This student will be back at ITMS on Monday with no negative test in hand. He’s been asymptomatic the entire time. God bless America!
That’s in accordance with state Health Department rules as promulgated by Flagler County schools: The student may return without a test if the student “is asymptomatic and seven days have passed since the date of last exposure to the COVID- 19 positive individual,” the rule states. A student in that situation could have returned with a negative covid test after four days. It’s only by parental choice that a student in this situation would lose a schooling day (or more), out of the parent’s refusal to have the student tested.