A reckoning to come
A state lawmaker issued a warning Friday to Brevard County Public Schools and other districts implementing student mask mandates in Florida: “There is a reckoning coming.”
Speaking to Florida Politics, Republican Rep. Randy Fine didn’t mince words. He vowed to defend students like 7-year-old Sofia Steel of Brevard County, a special needs student who — he says — was forcibly masked without the knowledge of her parents.
Fine detailed Steel’s story this week at a PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meeting. School staff, he said, tied a mask around Steel’s head with a nylon rope. Steel is a nonverbal child with Down syndrome.
“There’s a special place in hell for the three people who did this to this girl,” Fine said at the meeting. “This girl experienced real child abuse at the hands of the Brevard County School Board, and I will tell you this: this Session, there’s going to be hell to pay for the people who did that.”
“The mask was full of saliva. The girl couldn’t breathe,” Fine said at the meeting.
Angered, the father confronted Brevard County Public Schools staff. He learned the county had repeatedly tied the mask onto Steel over six weeks.
“They just forgot to take it off that day before they sent her home,” Fine said.
Brevard County is among a handful of districts that have implemented school mask mandates in violation of an executive order issued by DeSantis.
“The student was given a mask exemption as soon as the parents made the request to school leadership,” Chief Strategic Communications Officer Russell Bruhn told Florida Politics in an email. “The school district is investigating the allegations made by the family. BPS strives to ensure each student has the best educational experience possible and will continue in that effort.”
Mask mandates — particularly in schools — remain a contentious topic in the Sunshine State and elsewhere. A Republican lawmaker filed legislation Thursday to further thwart vaccine and mask mandates in Florida. DeSantis, meanwhile, announced plans Thursday for a Special Session to curb vaccine mandates.
What might a “reckoning” look like? Fine said: “I’m going to do everything I can to help every parent who wants out of this corrupt, abusive school system get out.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
DeSantis demands vaccine Special Session — DeSantis vowed to call a Special Session in November to combat vaccine mandates from employers. The Governor brought expediency to the movement Thursday because of vaccine requirements for large businesses that the U.S. Occupational Safety Hazard Administration is expected to announce soon. DeSantis wants the Special Session to include compensation and employment for people fired or facing adverse medical reactions because of a vaccine mandate. Republican legislative leaders have ideas of their own, including creating a state equivalent of OSHA. Democrats resoundingly oppose the Governor’s move, with many calling it a political stunt.
DeSantis plans strong rights for protesting parents — The Governor also wants the Special Session to result in greater protections to parents of students in public schools. On Wednesday, DeSantis pledged to “fortify” parents’ rights to peaceful protests against school boards that are pushing policies parents don’t like. That may include providing parents the right to seek damages from school districts if the parents are convinced the school district’s mask policies caused harm to children. DeSantis has criticized U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland for considering using the Justice Department and the FBI to protect school officials from threats of violence. “We will do whatever we can to thwart such investigations,” DeSantis said.
Taddeo enters Governor’s race — Miami Sen. Annette Taddeo launched her gubernatorial campaign Monday, adding her to a Democratic field that includes U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “I believe we can inspire Floridians to raise their sights and elect a Governor to represent all Floridians,” Taddeo said. Taddeo served as Crist’s running mate in 2014, when Crist was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. However, the State Senator noted she’s a lifelong Democrat, a possible dig at Crist, who was elected Governor as a Republican in 2006. But she told reporters she has “tremendous respect for Charlie.” Similarly, Crist said he knows and respects her. “Annette will bring spirit, heart, and important perspective to this race,” Crist said.
Passidomo elected Senate President-Designate — The Senate Republican caucus unanimously elected Sen. Kathleen Passidomo their leader for the 2022-24 term, making her the Senate President-Designate. “It’s hard work to balance the priorities of our state, meet the needs of our residents and preserve and protect what makes Florida so special,” Passidomo said. She will be the third female Senate President and the first since Toni Jennings, who was President from 1996 to 2000. The new President-Designate also made news when she told reporters she opposes the “vigilante” provision in the Texas-style heartbeat abortion bill legislative leaders, including current Senate President Wilton Simpson, are considering bringing to Florida. Citizen enforcement of laws is “not the American way,” she added.
Elections officials: ‘Tone down the rhetoric’ — In an unprecedented letter warning that democracy is under threat from a wave of misinformation, election supervisors statewide urged elected officials to restore public trust in democracy. The nonpartisan plea comes as Americans express a growing distrust in once-revered institutions, such as government, media and academia. Without naming former President Donald Trump, the letter cites the 2020 Presidential Election as a turning point. Trump has repeatedly questioned the results of the election. Though Florida avoided much of the election skepticism projected upon states, including Arizona, some Florida Republicans remain steadfast on calls for a “forensic audit.”
DeSantis has appointed 12 commissioners to head Volunteer Florida, including three new appointees.
The Governor’s three new commissioners are Henri Crockett, Ebo Entsuah, Dakeyan Graham. Two of the new appointees are also former FSU football players.
Crockett, of Pembroke Pines, is Chief Executive Officer of The Crockett Foundation. He played eight seasons in the National Football League after being drafted in 1997. He earned his undergraduate degree in criminology from Florida State University, where he was a member of the 1993 national champion-winning football team.
Entsuah, of Clermont, is a principal with Advanced Energy Economy and a member of the Clermont City Council. Previously, he was a teacher at Montverde Academy and a legislative aide in the U.S. House. He earned his undergraduate sociology degree from Florida State, where he was a member of the football team.
Graham, of Tallahassee, is executive director of Independent Education and Parent Choice for the Florida Department of Education. The 2020 Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year is a former teacher and band director with Hillsborough County Public Schools. Graham earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from the University of Florida, a master’s degree in educational leadership from Concordia University, and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of South Florida.
The remaining nine commissioners are reappointments. Those include Commission Chair and Gulf Breeze lawyer Kerry Anne Schultz-Battle and Commission Vice-Chair and Florida Lottery Secretary John Davis. Like Crockett and Entsuah, Davis was also a Nole and played on the team in the ‘90s.
The seven others are Tajiana Ancora-Brown, Christina Bonarrigo Villamil, Jayne Cerio, Adam Faurot, Autumn Karlinsky, Kelli Walker and Amieko Watson.
Volunteer Florida, whose CEO Corey Simon is also a former NFL and FSU football player, manages AmeriCorps in Florida.