OUR POSITION: We believe there is no need for federal intervention to provide security for Florida’s local school boards.
It’s no overreaction to fear for the safety of local school board members during the controversy over issues such as face mask mandates.
There are legitimate concerns about people who yell obscenities at school board members and go to the extreme of protesting in front of their homes — which Sarasota County School Board member Shirley Brown had to deal with recently. There is no place for that kind of nonsense. People should be able to voice their opposition to school board decisions without resorting to name-calling and threats.
But the decision by the National School Boards Association to seek federal help to erase what it called an “immediate threat” to school boards, is a stretch.
Tuesday, the Florida School Boards Association refused to pay membership dues to the National School Boards Association after the national group wrote a letter to President Joe Biden’s administration charging that local school board members across the U.S. were under siege. The letter, dated Sept. 29, asked the federal government for help in monitoring the threat levels.
Again, we should all take these threats seriously. But to request federal aid from Washington is overreach. Local police should be more than able to provide adequate protection for school board members.
Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Andrea Messina, a former Charlotte County School Board member, penned a letter to the national association that basically told the national board “we got this.”
Messina’s letter said, in part: “Several elements of your letter run counter to the tenets embraced by the FSBA and this communication has caused serious concerns, conflict and consternation for many or our members within the FSBA.”
Messina went on to take note of the first amendment rights of parents, and others, to disagree with school boards’ decisions and to voice their displeasure. She made mention of the right to protest being the “bedrock” of democracy.
We agree, but again with the caveat that protestors behave in an orderly and respectful manner. The ability to make a point or to disagree does not require name-calling, cursing or physical threats.
The tensions over mask mandates, and other issues mostly based on the pandemic’s impact, are not confined to Florida schools. The controversies have flared up in almost every hamlet across America as the mandate to keep students and school employees safe has clashed with what some call their freedom to deal with the threat of COVID-19 in their own way.
And Messina acknowledged the problems school boards are dealing with.
“We have heard some reports from our members that have legitimate, documented threats that are concerning. So we have great concern about the safety of our peers, of our members,” she told the News Service of Florida. At the same time, she pointed out that people with different opinions can be passionate and said some clashing of ideas can be healthy.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to the national board’s letter by directing the FBI to work with local officials to curtail the harassment and threats — a move that only incensed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
Corcoran warned that federal interference in Florida would get a “swift and zealous response,” according to the News Service of Florida.
That, we don’t doubt.