Florida Today | By Bailey Gallion | October 13, 2021
The Florida Board of Education officially notified the Brevard County School Board Tuesday that it will withhold board member salaries as long as the school district’s mask mandate remains in place.
In order from the Florida Board of Education dated Tuesday, the School Board was given 48 hours to either remove its mask mandate or confirm the annual salaries of board members.
If the board doesn’t comply, the Florida Department of Education will withhold state funds equal to board members’ monthly salaries for each month the mask mandate remains in place. The department will also withhold funds equal to any federal grant intended to make up the loss in salaries to prevent the federal government from using COVID-19 relief funds to cover board members’ salaries.
The order forbids BPS from allowing the reduction of funds to impact teacher salaries or student services.
The School Board received the letter toward the end of the day Tuesday, and did not fully discuss it during that night’s regular meeting because board members had not had a chance to review it beforehand.
Belford said Wednesday morning that the board’s general counsel was reviewing the letter. The board has yet to determine its next steps. At this point, all board members have expressed that losing their salaries is not a deciding factor in their votes about the district’s mask mandate.
The Brevard County School Board continued to discuss the district’s mask policy at a Tuesday night meeting, and one board member brought up the possibility of allowing Homecoming dances.
School Board member Katye Campbell, who along with Vice Chair Matt Susin has consistently voted against the mask mandate this school year, placed the district’s mask mandate on the meeting’s agenda. She said during the meeting that because board members had not had time to review the official letter from the Florida Department of Education detailing the action the department would take against the board, she would postpone the bulk of her comments.
“I would ask for my fellow board members to please reconsider,” Campbell said. “I know it wasn’t about salaries to begin with … but we will have to deal with these consequences once they are handed down.”
Campbell added that she didn’t believe the board should apply for any federal grants to recoup the withheld funds.
BPS superintendent Mark Mullins said the district has already prepared a parental opt-out form to be implemented if Brevard cases fall under the threshold of 50 weekly cases per 100,000 designated in the mask policy.
Under current policy enacted in August, traditional Homecoming dances are postponed indefinitely. Susin asked if it would be possible to lift the policy as COVID-19 cases slow in Brevard County.
School Board Chair Misty Belford expressed reservations, saying it would place a strain on administrators to plan Homecoming dances while meeting COVID-19 guidelines. Susin asked BPS Superintendent Mark Mullins if it would be possible for dances to be held before Christmas.
“I don’t want to give our kids unfair expectations,” Mullins said, but added that he would continue to discuss the possibility with district administration.
The Florida Board of Education voted last Thursday to accept a recommendation from Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to withhold a month’s worth of pay from Brevard County School Board members.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution in support of the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA), which is withholding its dues to the National School Boards Association (NSBA) due to a letter the NSBA president and CEO sent to President Joe Biden requesting federal law enforcement agencies to investigate threats against local school board members. Members of the Florida association believed the NSBA overstepped its authority by sending out the Oct. 11 letter without the input of its members.
Susin, a member of the FSBA board of directors, also said the letter sowed unnecessary division. The resolution the board passed Tuesday states that Florida school boards will continue to work with local law enforcement agencies as incidents arise.
School Board member Jennifer Jenkins was the sole vote against the resolution. Jenkins has received backlash for her support of mask mandates and LGBTQ-affirming district policies, including protests outside her home in April and September.
Jenkins said Tuesday that she hasn’t publicly shared every detail of the actions angry community members have taken against her, but people have followed her, brandished weapons while at her house and made anonymous reports to the Florida Department of Children and Families that her daughter was being abused.
Given her experience, Jenkins said she recognizes the need for the the NSBA to send its letter and disagreed with voicing support of the FSBA.
“It’s frustrating as an individual — the only individual out here who has been impacted by these things that are within this resolution,” Jenkins said.
Like previous meetings, protesters for and against the mask mandate gathered outside the meeting, and some anti-mask protesters argued with Belford when reminded masks were required to enter the building.
Several speakers criticized the mask mandate, but many were more focused on a new proposed public speaker policy.
The policy would limit the length of time people could speak depending on how many signed up. If there are fewer than 10 public speakers, each speaker can address the board for 3 minutes. If 11 to 20 speakers sign up, each speaker can address the board for 2 minutes.
If there are more than 20 speakers, each speaker can address the board for one minute. Nineteen speakers signed up to speak Tuesday. During most recent School Board meetings, more than twenty speakers have arrived. Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting voiced concern that the time limits were too short to allow people to adequately express their opinion.