Parents Ejected From Mask Mandate Meeting After Outbursts

Posted on April 21, 2021 by Romi White

A Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office deputy escorts a father from last night’s school board meeting. Photo by Romi White.

Security was beefed up for the last night’s Santa Rosa School District COVID-19 mask mandate discussions, and by the end of the evening around a half dozen parents opposed to masking were escorted out by police – an unprecedented occurrence, per law enforcement. In the end, the board decided to keep its mask mandate through the June 14 end of the 2020-2021 school year.

At the beginning of the board’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy workshop, two local physicians made presentations:  Dr. Randall Reese, MD, a Gulf Breeze pediatrician, voiced support for continued masking; Dr. Joel Rudman, MD, a Navarre family physician, called for an immediate end to masking and challenged some of the data presented by the school district, calling it “untruthful.” 

Parents were not allowed to speak during the workshop but around 100 stayed for public forum during the meeting.

Jennifer Hensley, a teacher at Woodlawn Beach Middle School, was the first speaker, asking the board to keep the mandate. She was followed by 18 speakers who opposed continued masking. 

One student, Reese Sayer, a freshman at Navarre High School, requested an end to the mandate. “I’m sick of masks,” he told the board, explaining that he wears one from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. during school days and is required to immediately put a mask back on before catching his breath following sports activities. He also alleged that students are not properly wearing masks. “If this continues, none of you will have your jobs after the next election,” he said. 

Following public forum, board members discussed the matter, seeking legal advice from their attorney, Terry Harmon, who offered the board had two options: advertising a rule change to the code of student conduct, which was updated in September 2020 for masking; or taking the position that the existing rule’s verbiage allows for immediate suspension of the mandate. Harmon said the latter could make the district more subject to legal challenge.

During the course of the board’s discussion, around half a dozen parents raised their voice to ask questions or voice opposition, and some used profanity. Board Chairwoman Wei Ueberschaer asked Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office deputies to escort them from the meeting. 

The board ultimately voted to have the Superintendent advertise a June 3 public hearing at which the board plans to vote on a rule change to make masks “highly recommended” versus required, starting June 15.