Meeting for the first time since their ugly, chaotic meeting of Aug. 17, Flagler County School Board members this afternoon heard directly from the medical director at the Flagler County Health Department. He proposed what, in his view and that of the global consensus of the medical community’s view, would help slow the spread of Covid in schools, which are now a driving factor of the disease in Flagler, and cut down on droves of students having to miss school because of mandatory quarantines: universal, mandatory masking.
A majority of the school board was unmoved–or at least not moved in the recommended direction–with two school board members challenging the physician and the meeting adjourning without indications of substantial changes.
For the first time this year–and the first time going back to last school year–the Flagler County School Board administration had invited Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler County Health Department, to the table for the workshop. It was a clear signal that the administration was willing at least to hear about stricter covid-prevention measures than it had been enacting so far, or to indicate that its ears are still open to different approaches as reflected by different board members.
After Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt enumerated Covid’s toll on children’s attendance–over 800 infections, 2,234 quarantines in a district of 13,000–Bickel explained what would work best to address a momentous surge of Covid-19 cases in Flagler schools since classes resumed four weeks ago–more cases in that stretch than all those accumulated last year, and half the total cases in the county.
His recommendation: universal, mandatory masking.
“Our feeling is the best mix of strategies at this point is to intensify the mitigation including universal mask-wearing and de-emphasize the high cost, low impact part which is all this contact tracing,” Bickel said. A board member had earlier asked about asymptomatic students having to be quarantined and never developing symptoms. “The vast majority of kids who get sent home don’t get Covid and don’t have symptoms, they don’t have symptoms because they don’t have Covid but then a lot of them with Covid don’t get symptoms,” the doctor said.
Masking, he said, “will have a significant positive effect,” Bickel said. In an additional disclosure the board members were not aware of, David Bossardet, the safety specialist, said that it would also eliminate the need to quarantine non-symptomatic close contacts of students confirmed to have Covid. That would significantly cut down on absences required by quarantining. “There is CDC guidance that if there is a universal masking policy in a classroom setting, a student would not need to quarantine, as long as they were wearing a mask and they were asymptomatic,” Bossardet said. Close contacts, in other words, would not necessarily have to miss school. “As long as they were asymptomatic, if everybody in the classroom was wearing a mask. There’s no need for students to miss instructional time.”
Even though school board members have been frustrated by the high number of quarantines and infections, a majority of three have refused to impose a mask mandate. They turned down one such move on Aug. 17. They are citing both Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order banning such mandates and what Board members Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald repeatedly refer to as “conflicting” data about what works and what doesn’t. McDonald is more categorical: masks not only don’t work, but harm children, she said, inaccurately, today.
“It is illegal for us to mandate masks,” Woolbright said, citing state government and education officials. Leon County Judge John Cooper on July 30 ruled that the DeSantis order is illegal, and in his written order issued on Sept. 2, enjoined the DeSantis order: “I also enjoin the ‘Enjoined Defendants’ from enforcing or attempting to enforce the Executive Order and the policies it caused to be generated and any resulting policy or action which violates the Parents’ Bill of Rights as outlined in this Final Judgment,” Cooper ruled. But appealing the decision, the DeSantis Administration got a stay of the Cooper order, which may or may not prevail, depending on further pending decisions on that stay.
As Board Attorney Kristy Gavin explained, the court decision did not address the Health Department’s rule on masks (a rule that requires broad opt-outs), because the department was not a party to the lawsuit. “That stay is currently in place until either Judge Cooper or the First DCA removes the stay,” Gavin said, referring to the First District Court of Appeal.
At least a dozen school districts in the state are defying the DeSantis order either way and imposing mandatory, no-opt-out masking policies (with the exception of medically approved opt-outs). That’s the approach Board members Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro had sought in mid-August, and would have supported again today, if the approach was enacted through the superintendent’s operational authority. But with Board Chairman Trevor Tucker still sticking with the stricter reading of the law as it stands now, there’s no such change ahead.
“It’s really hard to pinpoint what will and will not make a difference,” Woolbright told Bickel, referring to the way last year mask-wearing was more prevalent, though she describe dit in more categorical terms than was the case in Flagler: “It was universal mask, and everybody was swearing masks.” Not quite. The mask “mandates” in effect even then were all voluntary, and mask-wearers were, while more prevalent, by no means universal–except in schools, where masks were mandatory by the superintendent’s orders.
“I’m all for layering our mitigations, but it’s just hard for me to put my mind around how we can say just this one thing is the catch-all,” She said–again, mischaracterizing Bickel’s point. Masks are one of the measures that would help, he said.
There are some changes ahead, namely in the way the district will conduct contact tracing once informed that a student has tested positive. Rather than conduct that contact tracing through individual teachers, as the Health Department does now, a school-based liaison will collect the information from teachers and convey it to the Health Department. It’s an internal change that’s not expected to alter the way students’ parents are informed of their Covid status.
The workshop nevertheless was the first occasion in over a year of the pandemic that an actual medical professional sat at the table, providing insights, factual and analytical, as opposed to board members batting around assumptions, opinions and gleanings from this or that article, this or that social media platform.
But the factual and professional did not have much of an impact on opinions that since last year have become entrenched as unshakable faith, however erroneous.
Janet McDonald, who has peddled innumerable conspiracy theories and false information about masks and the pandemic–and who has no medical degrees or expertise–again did so directly to Bickel, claiming masks are not effective–that the virus goes through and around them, and that “a lot of negative things” can happen to children wearing them. She also claimed that “asymptomatic people do not spread nor do they harbor Covid,” an gross falsehood, and followed it up with the claim that “The CDC themselves said masks were 1 percent effective in a lot of their literature over the last year and a half,” also a gross falsehood. Then she claimed that the Covid vaccine “is not a vaccine,” nor was it approved by the Food and Drug Administration–again, flat-out falsehoods. Bickel said repeatedly that she was speaking falsehoods, at one point exhaling, “Oh, Janet,” as he sat just a few feet from her. McDonald kept speaking.
As she did so and the discussion, with a mostly flustered Bickel, narrowed down to details of one form of testing against another, one variant or another, Tucker halted the slide, asked for the legal analysis Gavin provided, then ended that segment of the workshop, since the board was required to hold a 5:30 p.m. budget hearing. A few other items reflecting how much chafing there is between board members at the moment flared, but again Tucker deferred them to a board “retreat” the panel is holding later this week, in the same room, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the same third-floor meeting room at the Government Services Building, 1769 East Moody Boulevard, Bunnell.
Why not wear the masks?
Really not the end of the world.
It is not forever and the kids will adapt.
Angela Biggs says
I agree 100%! McDonald, Wool, and Tucker are being ignorant and reckless with the lives of children and school workers. The Superintendent should instate an emergency mask mandate now! It is obvious by comparing the data of positive cases from last year to this year. This year’s numbers are out of control. Do not listen to the les and anti-science BS coming out of McDonald’s mouth. Absolutely ridiculous. Shame on the district.
Jane MeDonald needs to be removed from the school boast for her false information about covid, vaccine and mask. She is the reason covid is out of control in our schools. She only cares about her anti vaccine agenda and not the health of our children.
If she is spreading false formation, she needs to stop. She is not a doctor. The science tells the best information.
Tim Mcauliffe says
She is only part of the problem. There’s a lot of bad parenting in Flagler County. When Your child is born, your primary duty is to protect your child.
Mod the dress code until the pandemic is over and include masks. Done. Even Texas schools did it to get around their hypocritical Governor. Where there is a will, there is a way, sadly here there is no will. Typhoid Mary would be a MAGA heroine. I mean some take sheep dewormer so is it a stretch? Yeah, no.
Absolutely disgusted by the lack of empathy and leadership by the three board members still unwilling to do what’s best for our children and families in the middle of a freaking pandemic! CANNOT WAIT to vote these idiots OUT of office!!! And to Woolbright who refused to show her true colors prior to this last election, it will be your last election.
They are not murderers, just cowards , and there are no heroes in Flagler that will save our children bottom line.
Putting the fate of our schoolchildren in McDonald’s hands is a pact with the Devil.
Her falsehood statements are an insult to our intelligence.
When are y’all going to remove her and Woolbright?
Do we have to wait until our schoolchildren are dying or have long-term effects from covid?
Dr. Bickel, along with every board member except Cheryl Massaro, entered the workshop meeting WITHOUT a mask, and sat less than 3 feet from other unmasked individuals. How can you follow the advice of a person who doesn’t follow his own advice. I was there. And
Obviously, the BOARD does not give a damn about your kids!! DO YOU AS PARENTS? The Board rather listen to a Lunatic worthless ignorant Governor than save its own children. If you don’t think that’s wrong, you really need to do a self examination of where your morals really lie!!
Edith Campins says
How many children have to die before the board will reconsider their illogical position?
The picture of no one wearing masks, including doc, speaks volumes. Kids need role models that walk the talk.
Don’t forget this Flagler county. Remember this at the ballot box. These school board members that peddle their nonsense about refusing to have children and staff mask must be fired. THEY MUST BE FIRED
Concerned citizen says
Everyone else Is mandating it , why the hell aren’t we ? At least try it for a month and see if it helps the numbers drop .
Angela Biggs says
Agree! As a teacher if I was not wearing a medical mask everyday in class I would have caught this virus by now and would be in a hospital. I have had 1-2 positive students per week in my classes. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Little more than mind-numbing idiocy. Will it take a death for the Flagler County School Board to wake up?!
Oh wait…never mind… that happened last year.
How soon we forget.
I guess this is a simple case of adults refusing to admit they are wrong… refusing to back-track.
More blood on their hands on the horizon.
Janet McDonald should be jailed!
It befuddles me how absolutely STUPID a collection of people- people in charge of the education (and safety) of children, no less- how very STUPID THEY CAN BE to not listen to a doctor’s recommendation in regards to the health and safety of the children that they (this pathetic excuse for a school board) are responsible for. How is it possible that a majority of a school board is this dumb? But please, continue sucking the teat of that cow desantis. It’s totally working wonders for the kids. Dead or alive, right? What’s a few dead kids, anyways.
If any family suffers the loss of a family member to covid that is contact traced through any Flagler County school (student or staff member), please hold school board members accountable for the death of your loved one. Not just the school board itself, but members too. Their independent choices should have consequences. Murder charges would probably never happen, but civil cases are different.
Now that I think about it, perhaps they’re intentionally ensuring that kids don’t get a proper education?
“Let’s make sure they get the absolute minimum of education mandated by law. You know, just enough so they’re *legally* educated but still dumb enough to never develop critical thinking or individual points of view that might actually make them better human beings. We can’t have that. They might vote us out when they are old enough to vote!”
“Don’t worry, that’s already being taken care of.”
Angela Biggs says
Thank you for speaking up. I agree 100%.
Over The Top says
It’s actually baffling to me that these are real people. Actual “adults” that live among us. The mental gymnastics these nut jobs do just to be right (even if just in their own mind). Leave politics at the door. Just look at the numbers from our district to that of others that are under a mask mandate. Masks aren’t 100%, of course. But isn’t any protection, even if small, worth it compared to the mess we’re in now? All of this pride will cause even more death in our county. Swallow your pride and do what’s right for the students and overworked and exhausted teachers and staff. It really even common sense at this point.
Dennis Beauchamp says
Again lives are being sacrificed for politics. First it was the elderly and now it is our children. In my opinion what these blind political followers are doing is not unlike parents neglecting their charges until the sicken and/or die. Remember these peoples names. They are deliberately neglecting their charges and if we let them kill out children we are as guilty as they.
Deborah Coffey says
Yes. From the Florida Education Association: https://feaweb.org/covid19/2021safe-schools-report/
The Truth says
Why is McDonald on the Board of Education when she has never had the best interest of the students in mind? She needs to be removed for the health of the children in Flagler County and go find another Cult GOP Board to be on.
When the Flagler County Health Department is saying children should be wearing masks and McDonald is against it, who do you listen to for the safety of all children? If you are in your right mind it isn’t McDonald.
Janet McDonald is a danger to children. She is totally ignorant of facts, spreads debunked conspiracy theories that someone with just a third grade education could identify as false ! She should be removed from the board for her lies that are endangering children! The rest of the spineless, selfish Board who refuse to mandate masks have no business making decisions about children. Who in their right mind goes against medical advice given to protect children? No one who really cares about them! These black-hearted, soulless, ignorant board members need to be voted out! They are disgraceful! They sicken me!
Absolutely Ridiculous says
Have any of these board members experienced a child being sent home from school because of a “close contact”? It is an upsetting situation for the child and the family. Have any of these board members considered the possibility that it bothers adults more to wear a mask than a child? I know children who wear their masks and do not have a problem with it at all! No, none of this has been considered because NONE of the three idiots have children in the schools, so what interest do they have in the health, safety, or education of Flagler’s students! It’s a damn shame our Governor would agree with these morons and not remove them from office. This board is an embarrassment and a disgrace and they should all voluntarily resign!
Comment disallowed. Disinformation.
Why isn’t the feelings of the parents and citizens of Flagler county taken into consideration when decisions are made.
We mistakenly elected three political hacks who don’t care about our children. Get rid of them. To bad they can’t be impeached. I thought you jailed people that threatened the lives of our children!! I embarrassed that Dr Bickel has to be harassed by such ignorant people while the children suffer.
Just a thought says
I’m very disappointed with Trevor Tucker. He has always been level headed when making his decisions but now, clearly as the swing vote, put politics ahead of children. Shame on you.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
” To be or not to be”…. is now ” to die or not to die”… it appears is the new motto of the ( majority) of the Flagler County School Board.
Bill C says
It’s like Janet McDonald is getting her health advice from the Grim Reaper.