Armed and unmasked

Two armed men stand watch at the mask exemption event Sunday in Venice.

VENICE — Parents and children lined up for hours Sunday at a mask-exemption event, with hundreds of forms reportedly being signed by medical providers recognized by the Sarasota County Schools.

Over the course of the event, which began at noon, 3,000-4,000 people showed up, said Alexis Spiegelman, who volunteered for her group, Moms for Liberty.

“This is what happens when they infringe on American people’s rights,” she said.

Her group isn’t pro-mask or anti-mask, she said, but is standing up for parents’ rights and individual liberties.

She said that as far as she knows, the medical providers doing evaluations for exemptions were professionals from whom the district will accept the exemptions: medical doctors, osteopathic physicians and advanced registered nurse practitioners.

In response to an inquiry about a potential influx of new mask exemption forms after Sunday’s event, district spokesperson Kelsey Whealey said,

District spokesperson Kelsey Whealey said any forms submitted would be “reviewed for compliance with the guidelines.”

“Forms that comply will be approved,” she said. “Parents who have submitted exemptions which are not in compliance will be contacted directly by the district.”

When the district initially adopted its mask mandate, any “licensed health care provider” could sign the form.

But a large number of forms signed by Venice chiropractor Dan Busch led the district to revise that standard.


Forms submitted with Busch’s signature were rejected after the change and families were given time to submit a substitute form.

At that time, Busch said he would be organizing an event at which parents could get forms completed by one of the three approved types of medical providers.

Spiegelman said she didn’t know if Busch was involved in organizing Sunday’s event, and Bryan Kessler, Busch’s attorney, said his client had no comment about it.

The event was held on private property known as The Hollows, at 826 South Moon Drive, Venice, at the invitation of its owners, Spiegelman said.

A short video on Twitter shows a large group of people mostly milling about. Posted by Ron Filipkowski, whose bio describes him as “Attorney, Marine, Triathlete, Historian. Former Federal Prosecutor & Repub; now Defense Attorney & Democrat. General Counsel for the Woke Mob.”

It had a million views and dozens of comments Monday afternoon.

A widely circulated photo credited to @StopTheSpread, which calls itself “a group of concerned community members in Sarasota, Florida,” shows two men with rifles at the event.

Spiegelman noted they were on private property but said she didn’t know anything about any security arrangements for the event.

The mask requirement will automatically be suspended if the positivity rate for COVID-19 in Sarasota County drops below 8% for three consecutive days. The rate for Monday was 9.81%.

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