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BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK PRO-MASK — On a school system administration campus packed with anti-mask forces, some of them from as far away as Flagler County, a protester in favor of masking in schools holds their ground outside the Volusia County School Board meeting Aug. 31.

School Board passes emergency mask mandate with a 3-2 vote

Following five hours of debate on a campus packed with anti-mask mandate protesters encamped outside, the Volusia County School Board voted 3-2 Aug. 31 to require students to wear masks in school, unless they have a doctor’s excuse.

The face-covering mandate for K-12 students takes effect Sept. 7 and will last through Oct. 15. The week following Labor Day, Sept. 7-10, will be a grace period, when unmasked students without doctor’s notes will not face repercussions. 

The School Board will take up the issue again Oct. 12 to decide whether the mandate will be extended.

Jamie Haynes, who represents DeLand-area District 1 on the School Board, was one of two who voted against the mandate. As she has in previous discussions, Haynes argued vehemently against requiring masks. She and School Board Member Anita Burnette were outvoted by School Board Members Ruben Colón, Carl Persis and Linda Cuthbert.

The decision came at an emergency meeting in the face of startlingly high numbers of school children who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Tensions were high. Officers from the DeLand Police Department ringed the campus as the debate continued inside the administration building, and the officers entered the School Board meeting room about 10:30 p.m., as the board neared a vote. 

Screams of “No!” and “Freedom!” could be heard up until the meeting ended after 11 p.m. As the vote was made, protesters screaming “Shame on you” forced the board to pause to hear one another.

Volusia County Health Department Administrator Patricia Boswell brought the latest COVID-19 numbers to the School Board.

In the first two weeks of school, the number of students who tested positive for COVID-19 was nearly 10 times higher than the number of students who tested positive during the same period in 2020: from 87 positive cases to 824.

School is being disrupted as students and faculty come down with COVID-19. Some 1,300 students were quarantined as of Aug. 24 because of exposure to the virus. 

A contingent of anti-mask-mandate protestors gathered for hours outside of the Volusia County Schools Administrative Complex in DeLand, where the School Board met to make a decision on requiring students across the county to wear masks in school. 

Some held signs, some waved “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, some yelled chants such as “Fire Fritz,” “my body my choice,” and “freedom.” Several ordered pizza and ate it, seated in folding chairs under umbrellas. They were there for the duration.

The chants could be heard over the School Board discussion at times, as the door was opened to let in a series of public speakers. Repeated refrains of  “We will not comply” and “Freedom” caused some citizen speakers and members of the School Board to falter.

Mask mandate protesters
BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK

“We are a divided board, we’re a divided county, state, nation, world and not just in this,” School Board Chair Linda Cuthbert said. “We have to somehow come together and do what’s best for our children.”

But what exactly would be best for children was the point of contention.

For Board Member Ruben Colón, who made the motion to require masks in schools, “best for children” meant reducing cases and lessening the need for students to quarantine.

“We are sending kids home for no reason,” Colón said. “If they are not in school, they are not learning.”

Inaction, some School Board Members argued, was irresponsible.

“Let’s look at the numbers; they’re way higher than they were last year,” Persis said. “Wearing a mask, to me, is a minor sacrifice for anyone to have to make.”

Volusia County Schools employees, adult volunteers and visitors are already required to wear masks through Sept. 11.

Over the course of two hours, some 40 speakers addressed the board, making many of the same arguments that have been made over and over during the course of the pandemic. 

Eleven spoke in favor of mandating masks, while 29 spoke against it.

It seemed like deja vu to the School Board, too, as they jockeyed with the same decisions they had faced with last year: How long to mandate masks? How to enforce proper mask-wearing? What options to give parents for opting out?

But the question of legality was clearer at the Aug. 31 meeting than when the School Board last discussed masks Aug. 24.

Since that meeting, a Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis had overstepped his bounds in prohibiting school boards across the state from mandating masks in schools. The state is appealing the ruling, but Volusia County School Board attorney Ted Doran said the Circuit Court’s decision was clear: Municipalities have the power to mandate masks if a local emergency necessitates it.

22 COMMENTS

  1. The law still stands. One judge can not rewrite a law. Persis and side kick Colon had no idea what they were talking about. They were vague and inconsistent. Mask for mask sake. What a bunch of buffoons. Ms Haynes was the only one with any sense. Asking for specifics that they had not even considered. Ms Cuthbert is an old bitty that surly does not like children.Sorry kids and families. They lied to you. Persis and Colon will keep lying to you.

    • The purpose of the judicial branch of government is not to rewrite laws, but to determine whether laws pass constitutional muster. Judge John Cooper ruled that the governor’s executive order was unconstitutional and “without legal authority,” which he is absolutely allowed to do. The Governor will appeal. Whatever the COURTS hold will stand.

  2. This is more of a virtue signal by our school board. Reuben Colon lied about many things trying to get elected to this position. Now he is making decisions without logic or scientific reasoning. I’ll do all that I can to make sure he is not re-elected.

  3. This was a tough position for the Board to be in. They were forced to make a principled, but unpopular decision. That is precisely what elected officials are supposed to do.
    They had nothing to gain personally by mandating masks, they did it to protect children and try to keep countless selfless teachers and educators as safe as possible.
    There is an extraordinary amount of evidence for tactics that can be used to reduce the spread of contagions, masks being at the top of the list. You can’t get your scientific information from Facebook.
    Way to go, School Board. I’m so sorry that such a loud portion of your constituency is simply selfish and crazy.

  4. The line this morning for drop off was very small. A lot of parents kept their child home. Good for them. Thinking about doing the same.

  5. When any of you actually have to care for a child who got Covid but for no other reason than they went to school, let me know. My kids went nearly 18 months without getting it, despite going many public places and living life basically normally and within 2 weeks of being in school, they are all sick. They struggle to breathe through congestion, can’t barely stay awake, aches, pains, fevers. You think that oh kids get it and its like the sniffles or nothing at all. It doesn’t ALWAYS GUARANTEED work out that way. And whats worse, even when they are better they will still likely have long term effects.

    If you think a little ol mask is emotionally harmful, wait until you get to tell your little ones that the get to suffer this mostly alone as you quarantine them to their room so it doesn’t spread through your house. Because you cant afford to have it, you cant afford for another of the adults to lose pay staying home. Because one you already is and since you’ve lost so much from all this already, you suffer emotionally too. And you and they suffer like this because of people who think YOU and YOUR child have the GOD GIVEN RIGHT to infect and make MY kid Sick.

    As a parent I’m so tired of the my kid my rights, my body my right, blah blah ignorance. Your rights to be reckless with your lives are not any more important than my kids rights. Not one single damn bit more important. So, I suggest that if your debilitating lack of morals and in general decency towards others in your community means you just cannot handle a simple mask on your kid then Go Ahead and request that the school district give parents who feel a mask is such a damn burden that they can’t handle it, the option to keep your kid home and have them do virtual school where they will be free to be maskless. The rest of us will do this small thing because it DOES NOT harm children. It DOES NOT cause emotional blah blah or anything else you and google have found in the furthest corners of the internet.

    You are NOT the white hot centers of the universe. You are NOT the only ones with RIGHTS. You ARE however the reason we are still dealing with this, this far from when it started.

    • Many of us already have. Stop being terrified of everything. You should not live your life in constant fear. There are two sides on this debate. Those afraid of the possibility of death (which is always constant), and those not afraid of the constant possibility of death. Don’t project your fear on everyone else.

      • Good on you, and I honestly hope they faired better than mine. As to the rest of your comment, I don’t fear death. I deal with it day in and day out at work, covid death to be specific. That does not mean that I’m okay with my or someone else’s child or family member to die when perhaps they shouldn’t have. thanks for assuming you know me. And for your amateur psych analysis… good times! I just prefer to not have sick kids who didn’t need to get sick and could have not gotten sick with a simple thing. And extremely sick of people who justify trampling on others side… with the whole its my right comment. Two sides to every story is correct. So here’s a riddle for you. If you have the “right” to your decision. Why do I suddenly stop having “rights”? once you have made your decision? That seems to be the way of it now. This is my choice and so yours is invalid and you will do as I want and say. There is no two sides anymore.

      • I just had to comment because I saw that you couldn’t handle one person’s side, while lecturing them about there being two sides to every story lol. Are you a professional ironist? Or was it by mistake that you did that? You do realize that person is expressing THEIR side of this story? Or did that slip past you Sigmund? lol

  6. Very simple. If a kid is sick keep them home. If they show up sick, send them home. Stop sending home children that are not sick. Insanity.

  7. For all my Freedom loving friends, please remove your children from these indoctrination camps. As we see time and time again, they do not care about our children, they only care about their political gains. Anyone with half a brain can tell you these masks do not work. It’s abuse to make these children muzzled all day. Please if you care for your children keep them home

    • ‘Merica!!!!
      Thats right people… if you value your “freedoms” more than someones basic right to life… Keep your kids at home where they cannot pass on your ignorance or covid to anyone else. Maybe if we muzzled more ignorant adults like you our kids wouldn’t be at risk? Just a thought.

      Us parents who don’t want kids sick will be more than happy if you keep your bratty self entitled kids at home with you. We’d actually prefer it so thanks for helping the cause.

      • You do realize kids who consistently wear their masks and hand sanitizer can catch covid right?? Because my nephew is one. He was terrified of catching covid for over a year, not wanting his mother to leave the house because he’s afraid she would die. He ALWAYS wore his mask. He always used his hand sanitizer. Yet he caught covid and brought it home to his family. And guess what, his mom didn’t die. My immunocompromised sister didn’t die. You keep blaming this entire thing on the unmasked and unvaxxed, are you one that wishes death on all of us because I hear that’s the popular opinion from people claiming it’s our fault this is still going on. Not that vaccinated people are spreading it too. Check your humanity please. Viruses will never go away even with masks and vaccines. Spreading hate into the world is not going to solve this problem, perhaps we need to be educating people on how to live healthier lifestyles and demanding treatment options we know work. Your child getting sick is terrible, but they survived. You will never stop your child from getting sick unless you want them to be a recluse and what kind of life is that?

  8. Maybe you should listen to those with complete brains who understand disease transmission and prevention. We heard enough of the “half brains” last night.

    Why do you think Florida has the highest covid surge numbers and overcrowded hospitals? It is because the residents won’t vaccinate or wear masks.

    Your children are required to take many vaccinations to enter school and have done so for years. Stop following ridiculous social media rants and conspiracy theories and get the facts.

    Trump is gone but his ignorant Florida cult lives on!

    Thank God that the Board made the right choice to protect our children and staff at school.

  9. People are dumb a dang mask is not going to stop the virus You can buy a $300 respiratory mask and it still don’t stop stuff from getting through. Now if you are by someone that has Covid it’s on your clothes so soon as you take your mask off your infected come on people get a clue I will be taking to a lawyer cause this isn’t right to force kids to wear a mask for what also going against the governor orders I see law suit

    • William,
      There are so many grammatical errors in your post that you need to go back to school for an English class. You are confused about disease transmission and prevention which shows you slept through biology class if you even enrolled in one.

      The Florida Court ruled that DeSantis cannot legally ban masks in schools so the School Board’s decision is perfectly legal and aligned with many other school boards in Florida.

      Your remark about covid on your clothes is absurd and totally wrong. Masks and social distance do help prevent transmission of the virus.

      Please get your facts straight. I know you are confused and scared by all the social media and
      bizarre conspiracy theories you read on the internet. Go to your physician, get correct data, and turn your energy into helping protect or students and staff.

      You obviously need assistance to get educated on this pandemic so go your local health department if you need further, accurate information. Don’t forget to wear your mask and please get a vaccination while you are there.

  10. Thank you Noah and all who presented and the Board members who finally voted for masks. My grandaughter age 9 had to stay ome days for nothing. These children are the loosers not the politicians who are using them to further their ambition. I kniw peiple will vote out all the cowards and pretend leaders.

  11. It’s strange how the school board needed to have an emergency session after the court case. There is still a long road with the mask mandate ban. It seems more political with the timing here.
    Colon’s argument was: a little girl didn’t know what was going on, and then the parents showed up and didn’t know what was going on. It was a straw man argument. His other part of the argument was that parents needed to go to work. Does he think schools are just day cares?
    There is a petition at change dot org. Look up: VCSB make masks optional

    • I thought the same thing. Why did they need a meeting at all when other districts enacted the mask mandate right after the Florida state court’s decision was declared.

      As a former teacher and administrator, this Board has been afraid to stand up to parents since the 90s due to a fear of lawsuits if they do not let parents vent at a public meeting. They think every decision has to involve the parents but that is not true. They have a duty to protect the health and safety of the children and staff.

      If you listened to the anti- mask arguments none had any merit or related to the K-12 grades.
      The reference to language development was valid but that is more important in very young children and this mandate does not extend to preschool as I understand it.

      There is a valid argument for ESE children with language, emotional/social deficits who do need to see the teachers mouth and expressions. Also, ESE students with medical issues would be exempt and any ESE child would have that exemption documented during the IEP meeting.

      The Board allowed medical exemptions to all children with a physician’s note which is fair.

      I wish more professional educators and medical personnel with REAL credentials would have spoken to present the facts to educate these misinformed, conspiracy influenced, and/or frightened individuals. I feel sorry for the anti-maskers because they do not understand disease transmission and prevention and put everyone at serious risk for this deadly pandemic.

      It is reassuring to know the majority of the Board saw through all the political and inaccurate arguments to make the right decision. I wish they would have extended the time period because the numbers will not go down after all the super spreader events the non-maskers will hold during Labor Day.

      The Board will have to go through another unproductive public forum in mid October and reinstitute the mask mandate when the numbers have not gone down.

  12. Someone… needs to step up and form a committee…and formulate an action plan…We must rescue our children from a public education system that is indoctrinating and masking our children, IMO…

    • Mr. Allison,
      Can you define what you mean by indoctrination as it relates to children in public schools or wearing masks? Do you know anything about the curriculum in your child’s school, classroom instruction, teacher evaluation, and accountability? If so, please give me some examples about the specific indoctrination that the students must be “rescued ” from in the public education system.

      Teachers are required to follow state standards that govern what objectives and supporting content they must teach for a given subject and grade level. Your Governor is ultimately charged with overseeing the public schools.

      If you are so concerned about what is taught in the public schools and how instruction is being delivered, develop an action plan to present to DeSantis about reforming state standards.

      All people in Florida are the ones that need to be “rescued” from this misinformed, politically motivated, ego driven Governor. If he had his way, no-one would wear a mask or be vaccinated.

      DeSantis lacks concern for the health of all Floridians shown by his determination to expose everyone to a deadly pandemic to appease the ex-president’s cult base. Our children, who are too young to be vaccinated ,have nothing to protect them but masks and social distancing.

      You should thank the Board for being the voice of reason to protect students and staff.

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