On Thursday, Sept. 16, I attended a lightly populated Escambia County School Board event to speak on the need for a vote on mask mandates in the district's schools (video above, or click here to view in YouTube).
No, Escambia county does not require masks in its school buildings, even though it did require them last year, when case rates were much lower than they are today and the virus was not yet adept at rapid transmission and infection in children. It's one of the reasons they are among the worst in the nation for k12 COVID-19 case rates in this region.
About a dozen parents and community members, including myself, tried to bring science and reason to the members of the school board. Everyone was polite, patient, and truthful. I even printed out three prominent papers on the subject and brought them for all six members as a courtesy. One of the reasonable school board members proposed a special session to hear the evidence on mandating masks - as the district did last year. Two of the men on the school board refused, though I did not find that out until a few days later.
All quiet on the Western Front, as they say.
Fast forward to Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, and a flock of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers showed up to an otherwise dull meeting, hollering, interrupting, and disrespecting the deceased children and school staff who have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the last 21 months.
In fact, one school board member, an old man who clearly had zero grasp on public health issues but feels himself qualified to make decisions about public health issues for other people's children, stopped me from finishing the list of 100 names I brought to honor in a moment of silence. He stopped me at 51.
They were the names of the children and school employees in Florida who have lost their lives to COVID-19. I only wrote down 100 of the many hundreds because I thought a five minute break to honor those school personnel was a nice, apolitical thing to do. Frankly, it's the least we could do.
They would not hear the names. The disdain they showed for human life was truly disturbing.
Some of the worst and most fanatical ones in the anti-mask group even brought signs with incorrect spelling and grammar - claiming outrageous, hysterical and false things during their painfully long three-minute turns at the podium, like how masks hurt children with disabilities (children with disabilities are far more likely to suffer more severe consequences if they do catch COVID-19), misinformation about COVID-19 rates in Florida, misinformation about Ivermectin (it's not safe to take horse paste for COVID-19, btw), misinformation about COVID-19 in general ("I don't hear about dead kids" said one man - even though a high schooler in the district literally died earlier this month), and -- as you can probably imagine -- misinformation about me.
Some of the radicalized right who came to the meeting claimed masks harm children with "dissabilities," while others lied about the mandates in the previous years (masks WERE, in fact, required in Escambia) and referred to mask mandates to protect children as "COVID tyranny."
One man who is known to patrol and obstruct otherwise reasonable discussions (every town's got 'em) went so far to claim that I didn't even have children, implying that I had no right to speak to the school board about mask-wearing... even though I'm a leading expert on COVID-19 k12 case data in Florida, and do, in fact, have two children who live in Escambia county (otherwise, someone needs to explain to me why I keep these two gremlins around, and feed them, read to them, clean up after them, etc etc):
They wanted to create a distraction from the sane and rational among us who pled with the school board to stop bowing to our dangerous Governor for their own self-promotion and to do their jobs - protect the students and staff under their care each day.
Two speakers really had an impact on me. Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman, a pediatrician here who ran against Matt Gaetz in 2018, spoke about her own struggle with COVID-19 and how it's impacted her life, her family, and her community. And Dr. Alexys Hillman, another local physician who described how exhausted, frustrated and heartbroken the last 21 months have been in this community, facing constant disrespect by the very community who runs to doctors like her the second they get sick or hurt. Dr. Hillman's nearly brought me to tears.
But did it move anyone in the pro-death mob? Of course not.
Those who boo when hearing the names of the dead, complain when hearing the grief of our doctors, and those who are too cowardly to face those they harass and smear online when they're face-to-face with them (one woman who home schools her kids made a complete fool of herself being anti-sematic when someone told her that her time was up and she needed to sit down by having her friends pull her down and tell her to shut up) lack the most important thing we can have as humans: empathy.
It is one thing to be misinformed. There are a lot of manipulative people who will lie to their own people and put them in harm's way to achieve a political end - Ron DeSantis being the most obvious example. They wield power like a blow-torch - zero regard of who they're burning as long as they're making their way past the crowd. They are part of a highly coordinated disinformation campaign meant to control, terrify and radicalize American citizens, using the same methods and tools the Nazis used in Germany and the Taliban uses today. Falling victim to that doesn't make a person bad. It makes them flawed, misinformed... it makes them human. They deserve patience, kindness, respect as people who simply want the truth and can't seem to make heads or tails of what is right with all the noise being made by the mob.
But to be completely devoid of empathy, to laugh and joke about dead children (in front of the classmates of the high schooler who recently died), to willingly spread misinformation that endangers the health and safety of not only your community but the one group of people we're supposed to protect more than anyone -- children -- makes you inhumane, cruel, and soulless. Even the Superintendent was caught on camera lying about the scientific consensus on masks, trying to make it seem as if there is confusion when there isn't any (sound familiar? *cough climate change cough*). It's irresponsible and I'm shocked that no one has yet been held liable for the untold suffering they've called in civil action, although I'm sure that's in the pipeline.
Members of the Escambia County School Board have chosen to sicken and kill children and school staff for the political favor of the most dangerous monster in American politics today - a corrupt Governor of Florida who we must (and will) defeat in 2022.
It's a stark reminder of the evil ordinary people are capable of when small minds are given an ounce of power and become drunk on their own self-importance.
We need to immediately expel the following members from any association with public education after the display put on this past week, as well as go after any professional licensure they hold (I doubt they have any, but it's worth investigating) that has any morality clause, public health clause, or any requirement to be truthful, to act in the best interest of their students or staff, or base their decisions on sound science and not politics:
Superintendent: Timothy Smith
District 1: Kevin Adams District 2: Paul Fetsko
District 5: Bill Slayton
Not one has any education or experience or even proximity to the medical field. Even though nearly 1/3 of Escambia County is comprised of non-white residents, the seven representatives elected to the school board (six board members plus the supe) are all white. Only 2/7 are women. And although only 43% of registered voters in the county are Republican, at least 5/7 on the school board are Republicans.
Escambia County politics are corrupt. The representatives are completely out-of-touch with the people and with reality. They work for a governor who has killed our people and seeks to destroy the very democracy our nation stands on.
That's why I'm working with local leaders to identify those in our community who are representative of our community and who are willing to oust these corrupt career politicians for good.
Change happens at every level of government. Supporting my campaign supports change across the entire system.
On a side note, several of us were completely shocked that a public school board would lead a frankly terrifying and fundamentalist Christian prayer at the beginning of the hearing. A government agency, much less a school district, legally is forbidden from such activity. I was sitting next to a Jewish woman who was aghast. "I feel real welcome as a Jew right now," she said, sharing the same internal outrage I felt at subjecting a non-fundamentalist Christian community to highly religious and inappropriate sermon at a public event for a government body.
Even in my rural town in Mississippi, they stopped doing prayers before soccer games after we told them not all of the players were comfortable with it. The "prayer" at the Escambia school board event was one of the most obscene things I've ever seen at a government hearing.
Sept. 23, 2021: I'll be joining Rick Outzen LIVE! at 7:10 AM on WCOA 1307 AM!
Oct. 2, 2021: Join us for the 2021 Women's March on October 2, 2021! Click here for more info!
Oct. 9, 2021: Catch me at the Niceville Pride Parade on October 9, 2021! Click here for more info!
Oct. 11, 2021: Indigenous Peoples' Day. Did you know that last year Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson officially announced that the city would hence forth recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day? Learn more here.