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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Central Florida school district accused of violating Sunshine Laws after removing crowd ahead of mask mandate vote

Posted By and on Thu, Oct 7, 2021 at 9:45 AM

click to enlarge Some schools are pushing ahead with mask mandates after the state threatened their funding. - ADOBE
  • Adobe
  • Some schools are pushing ahead with mask mandates after the state threatened their funding.

State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, called Wednesday for an investigation into the chairwoman of the county’s school board, after members of the public were excluded from part of a meeting Tuesday that dealt with school mask requirements.

Fine alleged that board Chairwoman Misty Belford violated Florida’s Sunshine Law during the sometimes-heated meeting.

“It is a bedrock principle of Florida government that public business must be done in front of the public. Yesterday, the Brevard County School Board flagrantly violated that public trust,” Fine wrote in a letter Wednesday to State Attorney Phil Archer.

Fine took issue, in part, with the public being excluded from the room when the board voted to keep the district’s student mask requirement in place. Belford on Wednesday denied that she or the board violated the open-government law.

“We operated within the sunshine laws,” Belford wrote in a one-sentence statement to The News Service of Florida.

Fine also copied Gov. Ron DeSantis, state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the Florida Commission on Ethics on the letter. Before the public was excluded, Belford momentarily paused at least once to urge civility during a public-comment portion of the meeting and reminded the crowd several times to be quiet when not providing comment. Belford called a nearly 10-minute recess after audience members could be heard shouting at board members. When the meeting resumed, the public was not allowed in the room.

The conversation around school masking has become so heated in recent months that the federal government has begun investigating threats made against educators and school board members during meetings. Orange County Public Schools changed their rules around public comments to cut down on hours-long meetings full of anti-mask crowds, frequently travelling in from other counties.

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