VENICE — Hundreds of parents met in Venice over the weekend to develop strategies to protest Sarasota County School Board’s temporary mandatory mask mandate on Monday — the first day the district plans to enforce the new rules.
During the two-hour meeting, Moms For Liberty leader Alexis Spiegelman suggested having middle and high school students bring Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order against school districts, the new state Parents’ Bill of Rights and the Department of Health emergency order.
On Friday, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper declared DeSantis’ executive order banning local school districts from imposing mask mandates unconstitutional, and noted those opposed had only read part of the order and Parents’ Bill of Rights, which allows districts to make decisions in health emergencies.
In his ruling, Cooper said there are plenty of examples where the rights of one are balanced against the rights of a community, noting the right of adults to drink alcohol, but not drive drunk; and the right of free speech, but not to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.
“We don’t have that right, because exercising the right in that way is harmful or potentially harmful to other people,” Cooper said.
Spiegelman said despite the judge’s ruling, she’s confident it will be appealed.
“It does not change anything,” she said.
Her group plans to challenge the mandate early in the day.
“As kids go to school, they will have a mask on hand, but they aren’t going to wear a mask,” Spiegelman said. “The goal is to get into the door ... wear the mask until 10 o’clock. At 10 o’clock, everybody takes their masks off, it has to be mask noncompliance. If we all stick together, then they can’t enforce any kind of rules.”
Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Brennan Asplen sent a message late Friday to district parents, teachers and students. It was all about Monday and the ongoing fight against COVID-19.
“Any student not wearing a face mask — without a medical exception on-file — will be considered out of compliance with this policy,” he said. “If a student declines to wear a face mask, their parent/guardian will be called to pick them up from school. Our children need to be in school — please help us keep them actively engaged in their education in a constructive, supportive climate.”
He said about 3,000 students and school employees have already been out of school and work for “isolation and quarantining.”
But Spiegelman said parents should speak to their children about what’s going on in America. She said this is not a “vax versus no vax or a mask versus no mask issue.”
“There are times in our lives when it’s right to take a stand, and this is one of those times,” she said.
Spiegelman told the crowd to guide them in the “right direction” and “how to take a righteous stand.”
“You have to coach them that they need to peacefully not comply, say ‘No, I have a right to be here.’ I want an education, my parents told me I don’t have to wear that, you’re not my parents. No I don’t have to leave, and I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not going to go anywhere.’”
She blamed Sarasota County School Board members Shirley Brown, Jane Goodwin and Tom Edwards, who voted in favor of the 90-day temporary mask mandate.
An Englewood-based church is calling for prayers as, it says, “multitudes” of parents are sending their children to schools without masks on Monday to challenge those three School Board members.
The mandate can end if the positivity rate falls to 8% in the county for three days in a row. As of Thursday, it was 15.42% with a 14-day range of 15.35%, according to Sarasota County Department of Health.
Still, Spiegelman said, they “needed to capitalize on this moment.”
“Every student should have their cellphone on hand and just start streaming and you just stand your sacred ground,” she said. “The key for parents is to stay on public property and be unified in our message. They are going to call you and tell you need to pick up your children. Tell them we’ll be there and not go pick up your children because they need to realize this is untenable. They cannot continue this policy. We just need to overwhelm the system. This is now or never for America.”
On Sunday, Spiegelman wrote on her social media page that members of Moms For Liberty needed to “keep people with bad intentions” out of the group.
“We need to keep in mind that they will try to see what we are planning. It is to our benefit to share information with trusted individuals ONLY,” she wrote. “If someone in your group gives you a check in your spirit, please follow your instincts. Please let us know if anyone in your group begins making strange suggestions or saying things that just don’t sit right.”
She asked people to send “documentation of the event so we can look into it” to member Jimmy Cirillo.
Cirillo did not respond to questions Sunday afternoon.
Spiegelman released a statement Sunday afternoon repeating many of the concepts from the Saturday meeting.
“The bottom line is this: Peaceful noncompliance is an American tradition. The ability to voice one’s own opinion and petition the government for a redress of grievances is a God-given right protected by our First Amendment,” she said.
She compared the situation to the “sacred right to peacefully assemble and to peacefully not comply with injustice,” including “liberating moments” in human history like Rosa Parks, the American Revolution and those marching at the Selma bridge.
“The right of the individual to make governing decisions about their own lives is what makes America the greatest country on earth — Individual Liberty and representative government.”
She said parents are faced with one of the “teachable moments.”
“A hands-on lesson on civil rights, individual liberties, and what makes our Constitutional Republic superior to a straight democracy. Individual liberties matter, and asserting those rights when they are infringed is essential to preserving them,” she wrote.
She called Brown, Goodwin and Edwards “three radical leftists” that have put the administration, educators and superintendent in an “untenable situation.”
She said Moms For Liberty “stand” with teachers, administrators and Asplen.
“This is what happens when those holding public offices forget who they work for and decide to disregard our God-given and Constitutionally-protected rights,” she wrote. “Our rights come from God. Our Constitution serves to protect our inherent fundamental rights.”
It is her hope that “mass” noncompliance happens at 10 a.m.
For parents protesting, she urged them to stay on public property, not to break laws nor be rude, aggressive or make it “about masks.”
“This is about parental rights,” she wrote. “If the school calls you and asks you to pick up your kids ... go at your leisure as this mess is not the fault of families or administrators, this mess is the result of the rouge (sic) majority on board, and they need to fix it.”
They blamed the situation on the School Board members.
“They cannot continue this policy (and they cannot throw off the consequences of their actions onto everyone else — doing so will only cause division in our community),” she wrote in a statement. “Their blatant disregard for our rights has placed us in this situation. We need to overwhelm the system (with our peaceful noncompliance) until our voices are heard. This is a now or never time for America. We need to hold the line.”
She did not answer questions.
Chad Dion, an Englewood Elementary School parent, said teachers, including some in the audience on Saturday, aren’t responsible for the mask mandate.
“Our teachers are being bullied,” he said. “Our teachers are being pushed hard by a lot of other organizations. They’re feeling the same things we are. They have kids in the system. The staff has kids in the system that don’t want to deal with this, just like us.”
Dion said the battle isn’t at the school level and asked parents not to become emotional over being called to pick up their child for not wearing a mask.
“When we go to these schools, Monday, Tuesday, next week, next month — however long it takes to win — we cannot get emotional and take it out on the principals, on the custodians, on the teachers, on the resource officers,” he said. “This is not their fault. They didn’t do this. And if we are fighting at that level, we can’t win the battle at the school board, county or even state level.”
Spiegelman agreed, saying “a lot of teachers” would like to protest, but have had their job threatened.
“They (teachers) are kind of in a situation that’s similar to an abusive marriage with the teachers’ unions,” she said. “We can be the catalyst for setting a lot of people free. We need to say ‘You can’t force these things on me. I deserve to do what I want to do and what I feel is best.’”
Dion suggested parents organize a phone chain and contact each other when the school calls them to pick up their elementary-school age child. He suggested parents meet and go together to pick up their children and call the press to explain schools are “segregating” their children.
“(Tell them) they are kicking our kids out, they are not educating our children because of a mask,” he said. “They are putting them on lists … Do not go down the political route. Do not go down the science route. This is not about that. This about a parent’s right to parent their children. That’s it, plain and simple.”
Dion said the School Board could use other means to safeguard students including temperature checks, wiping down common areas, adding the desk shields and social distancing, but haven’t done anything except a mask mandate.
“We need to pressure our School Board members to prove why this is reasonable,” he said. “If they can’t prove them, they are not reasonable. We need emails, calls — flood the system.”