SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS UNSAFE SINCE JUNE 2021 - Immediate action must be taken

September 16, 2021

maskSince at least June 2021, the OCPS School Board Meetings have been chaotic and disturbing.  CTA supports free speech and the rights of all community members to participate. But when some attendees are allowed to freely violate the OCPS Code of Civility and the Mask Policy, and even bully and harass others at board meetings a line has been crossed.  We urge the School Board members and OCPS District leaders to enforce their own policies at every school board meeting and in every OCPS building and property, each and every day.

What message is being sent to violators when they are allowed to violate policies at School Board Meetings? It empowers them. It tells them that policies that are intended to provide protection are not enforced and are not important. It sends the message that district leaders are not serious. It sends a message to the parent-violators that their children who violate policies will also be forgiven. 

What message does it send to those following the policies at School Board Meetings? It sends the message to teachers that there are two standards -one for teachers who ignore violations and face discipline at Professional Standards, and another for District leaders and personnel who continually allow violations without a care.  It sends the message that the District leaders are unconcerned for the safety and protection of those attendees who are following policies. It sends the message that the District is not serious about the protection and safety of students, educators and the community in all of its buildings and schools. 

View  videos taken by the anti-masker group that illustrate the lack of enforcement of policy:

8/24 Meeting

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nLd6YLxfMFXy8YvXOU901mDMIhz_tf8P/view?usp=sharing

9/14 Meeting

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1H0gILzaochhunGV_eVpQInX32SEgpZLw/view?usp=sharing


President Doromal's Email to School Board Members and District Leaders

September 16, 2021

I first noticed things becoming unsettling at OCPS School Board meetings at the June 17, 2021, meeting, as I expressed in the last paragraph of a July 12, 2021, letter to School Board members. (Read it at this link.)  Things have only escalated since that meeting. 

After witnessing disturbing incidents at the August 24th School Board Meeting, CTA sent an Open Letter to the School Board Members calling for them to enforce their own policies at School Board meetings, at the RBELC, and all OCPS property.   

(https://www.facebook.com/OCCTA7448/posts/4152457831533671) We have heard from numerous teachers that they will not return to school board meetings because they feel unsafe and unprotected at these meetings. I feel unsafe and unprotected at these meetings. This is unacceptable. 

During the August 24th School Board meeting, I went to the lobby after the public comment period and asked an OCPS Senior Administrator why they were not enforcing the mask policy in the lobby. He said, “We tell them to put on a mask before they enter the school board meeting room.” I told him, “The lobby is OCPS property too.” We must pass through the lobby to get to and from the meeting room, and the speaker sign up table is in the lobby.  I told him people in the meeting room also had no masks, and in fact, deputies ignored the violations and had their own masks below their noses. He said nothing.   

I later spoke to several school board members after that meeting to urge them to enforce their own policies and provide a safe environment. I mentioned how the board members left the podium twice during June 17th meeting leaving the participants surrounded by unmasked, shouting disrupters who harassed us.

There are dedicated educators, parents and community leaders who attend every meeting to speak in support of elevated protections for OCPS students and educators. Yesterday one of them sent an email to school board members and District leaders to outline the entire experience of the August 24th meeting. She included video footage and photographs. According to this attendee and others, Tuesday evening at the School Board Budget Hearing, the anti-masker, anti-vaccine crowd was even more empowered than ever. They were not wearing masks in the lobby or in the board room. They threatened and bullied those who came to speak in favor of masks. They called school board members and other attendees “Nazis”, and they violated numerous policies, including the Code of Civility and the mask policy. 

It appeared from shared video footage that at least one OCPS deputy aided and encouraged their behavior. The deputy was seen with the cell phone of an anti-masker taking a group photo of the unmasked group that posed for him at the back of the board room.  He then joked with her as he handed the phone back. Instead of enforcing the policy, he empowered the group to violate it.  Instead of protecting the participants who were being harassed, he protected and encouraged the violators.   

When school board members leave the board room (to protect themselves?) for minutes at a time and leave the violators in the room to shout and harass those who are following the policies, it is truly troubling. The senior administrator and deputies merely appear to placate and calm down the crowd. They do not enforce policies. They do not escort them out of the room or building. They do not protect the rights of other attendees. 

At the August 24th School Board meeting, Jacob Engels, a well-known affiliate of the Proud Boys and Roger Stone, harassed teachers outside of the RBELC filming them and arguing about Critical Race Theory.  He was back to torment parents and pro-maskers at the September 14th meeting, according to attendees. (See these links for more background on Jacob Engels (Florida Politics , Orlando Sentinel .) I believe in free speech and everyone’s right to assemble, protest and to attend public meetings. What I do not believe in is allowing people to enter or remain in a public space in violation of laws or policies.  

Going to a school board meeting should not be like going into battle. Attendees should not be afraid to use the restroom or walk to their cars in the parking garage. Please take immediate action to stop this disturbing behavior. Please hire OCPS deputies who will enforce the policies.  Why should the rule followers be the ones who are unable to attend meetings out of fear for their safety? This is wrong on so many levels. I urge you to stop enabling violators and start protecting policy followers.  

Sincerely,

Wendy L. Doromal

President


LETTER FROM PARENT TO SCHOOL BOARD CONCERNING DANGEROUS MEETINGS

(PLEASE CLICK ON LINKS SHE INCLUDED TO VIEW VIDEO FOOTAGE AND PHOTOS DOCUMENTING THE CHAOS AND POLICY VIOLATIONS)

Date: Wed, Sep 15, 2021 at 3:35 PMSubject: My experience at yesterday's meeting - Things are out of controlTo: Jacobs, Teresa S. <teresa.jacobs@ocps.net>, Gallo, Angie R. <angie.gallo@ocps.net>, <johanna.lopez@ocps.net>, <Linda.kobert@ocps.net>, <Pamela.gould@ocps.net>, <Vicki.felder@ocps.net>, Dentel, Karen C. <Karen.castordentel@ocps.net>, <Melissa.Byrd@ocps.net>, Jenkins, Barbara M. <Barbara.Jenkins@ocps.net>Cc: ,, <marcela.barber@ocps.net>, <legalservices@ocps.net>, Supt <supt@ocps.net>, <amy.envall@ocps.net>, <john.palmerini@ocps.net>, <scott.howat@ocps.net>

Good Afternoon,

I wanted to walk you through what I and other people in support of masks experienced yesterday when we attended the School Board Pre-agenda comment period and meeting. I did not feel safe yesterday and was constantly harassed by anti-maskers that were there.

I arrived at the RBELC at 3:05pm.[1]  There were already many unmasked people gathered, sitting in a circle in the waiting area.[2]  I walked over to Wes Hodge who was standing beside the table where the cards are given out to sign up for comments.  A couple of minutes later Rita Harris arrived and joined us.  A few minutes passed and Jen Cousins arrived and joined us.[3] 

At this time other people started gathering behind us in line.  They were yelling at us and coming up to us, unmasked, getting in our faces and yelling about us “cutting in line” even though we began the line.  Things got louder and kept escalating.  One man with a phone on a monopod was filming us constantly. Willie Montague, who is running for United States Congress in Florida’s 10th District kept coming up to us yelling and swearing.[4] 

Wes stepped out of line for a moment to ask the taller officer[5] if there was a mask ordinance in effect for school board property. The officer said yes. Wes then asked if the lobby was school board property, he said yes again. Wes told him that he was concerned for his personal health and could they please enforce the mask mandate. The officer replied, "We will be over in a minute." but he never went over to speak to anyone. Then Wes went and asked the info desk person who said she called Chief Holmes. She came back over to say the Chief had come down but that he had stepped outside for a moment and would speak to them when he returned. He never returned while we were waiting in line and no one ever asked anyone to put masks on. 

Then a staff person came to the table with the comment cards and a lot of the anti-maskers came up to her complaining again and yelling that we had “cut in line.” Once I filled out a card to speak, I went into the chambers and took a seat.  Many unmasked people entered the chambers and were not asked to put on a mask until the proceedings began and Chair Jacobs asked them to put masks on. Two of the people seated across the aisle from me were wearing the see through fake masks.[6]

During my time to give a pre-agenda comment the crowd was loud and kept yelling and interrupting.  Twice the board got up to leave the room because the crowd would not settle down.  While they were out of the room the anti-maskers kept yelling and riling each other up.  One of the officers kindly spoke to them and asked them to quiet down.[7]

One of the men, Chris Parker[8], who gave a comment against masks, held up a black American flag and said, “If you’re not going to do the right thing we’re not going to wave the white flag. We’re going to wave the black flag which means no quarter, no surrender, just so you’re aware. It’s getting real close to that time, which side of the history book do you want to be on?”[9]

A quick google search explains that to “hoist the black flag” is a reference to piracy. A pirate's flag was not only identification but was also a symbol of terror because it meant 'no quarter given,' essentially, it meant to communicate that the pirates intended to catch the other ship, board it and kill everyone on board. The black American flag first appeared during the American Civil War of 1861-1865. Confederate army soldiers flew the black flag to symbolize the opposite of the white flag of surrender. The black flag meant that the unit would not give in nor surrender and that enemy combatants would be killed.

Another man named Jason, wearing an “I smell commies” shirt with Ronald Regan’s face on it,[10]got up to comment and yelled at the board, turned to yell at us sitting down near the mic and then said to the board, “You don’t deserve freedom. You don’t stand up for liberty. You don’t stand up for all of us, it isn’t one sided, it’s all of us together. And if you take my freedom one day somebody’s gonna take your freedom. And that’s how a bunch of people got put into ovens…From the top down all your people told me you’re responsible. That’s the same thing Hitler’s folks did as they shoveled people into ovens. So keep raising our kids like this…Sieg Heil, ya’ll are a bunch of Nazis.” As he said the last line he raised his hand in a Nazi salute.[11]

At this time the pre-agenda comment period ended.  The anti-maskers gathered in the back of the chamber for a group photo.  Someone handed their phone to the officer that had been chatting with them to take their picture.[12]

Afterwards the officer asked us to clear the room.  An unmasked woman came up to me to ask me why I had different information than she did about masks and didn’t I get that masks were really unhealthy? I stood up to move into the lobby and she stayed very close to me while I was trying to exit.  As we made our way through the crowd an unmasked woman spoke to her group about how the September 28th board meeting was the most important one because that’s the one when the board is going to reassess masks.  When she saw me recording, she paused what she was saying to yell at me.[13]

Once in the lobby a reporter from Fox35 asked to interview Jen Cousins.  As Jen was speaking an unmasked man stood directly behind her shouting. The man with a phone on a monopod kept filming us. A man named Jacob Engels kept harassing Wes saying “Why do you hate black people?” and “Wes Hodge is a racist” over and over.  Most of the anti-maskers still weren’t wearing masks or weren’t wearing them properly.

Once we were allowed back in the chambers I went back inside.  None of the anti-maskers stayed for the actual meeting.  Had I not been able to stay for the meeting I would have felt very afraid to walk to my car in the parking garage for fear of being confronted by one of these people that clearly have no regard for civility or science.  It was incredibly frustrating to see so many officers standing around and not doing anything to enforce the rules of the building.  Some of them seemed to even be buddies or at least very friendly with or support the people that were being so disruptive.  That seems like a conflict of interest for OCPS. Not to mention how could I expect any of them to protect me if a problem were to arise when that’s how they behave?

I would ask that you strongly consider making at least the next board meeting virtual.  If it can’t be virtual please do something to change the sign up process for public comments because it’s truly madness in the lobby. These science deniers are coming out en masse to intimidate their opposition and reasonable, respectful people that may want to attend are staying away because of it. 

Please do something to handle these issues.

Sincerely,

Lora Vail

Footnotes:

All files I reference can be found in this Dropbox folder 

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3zde8emwwus2edp/AAD2L-XcfjAEt2jholyUlaKEa?dl=0

[1]1-Lora Vail shortly after arriving to RBELC.PNG

[2] 2-Photos of crowd in lobby folder

[3]3-Wes, Rita, Lora & Jen in line 316pm.jpg

[4] 4-Waiting in line to fill out cards for  comment.mov

[5]5-Officers that Wes asked if they could tell people to put masks on.jpg

[6] 6-Chris Parker and woman wearing fake see through masks.jpg

[7] 7-Crowd when board left the room.MOV

[8] 8-Chris Parker with Black Flag.jpg

[9]9-Chris Parker comments with black flag.mov

[10] 10-Jason commenting about Nazis.png

[11]11-Jason comments yelling about Hitler.mov

[12] 12-Officer taking photo of anti maskers in chambers.mov 

(NOTE: This OCPS Police officer is the husband of OCPS General Counsel Amy Envall)

[13] 13-Maskless lady & crowd during break.MOV

dude 

sb