The Brevard County School District’s COVID-19 response plan came under fire from two separate groups Tuesday, with one taking aim at the School Board’s student face mask policy and the other its ban on indoor school musicals.
Members of Moms for Liberty — a “pro-liberty, pro-parent” group launched by former Brevard District 3 representative Tina Descovich — made another appearance at Tuesday’s board meeting, targeting the district’s mask mandate, among other policies.
The group singled out new District 3 representative Jennifer Jenkins, who at the Jan. 19 meeting dismissed its request to table the mandate, telling the audience, “We should not be talking about this anymore.”
“We will not stop talking about this just because you all think we shouldn’t be,” Moms for Liberty member Jordan Johnson said during public comment Tuesday.
“We are not here because … our children are simply ‘uncomfortable’ in these masks,” said Ashley Hall, the group’s Brevard County chairwoman. “We are here because are witnessing the damage these policies are doing to our children’s mental health.”
Jenkins doubled down on her prior comment, accusing the group of spreading disinformation.
“When we continue to make points that masks are not effective, my response will be, we shouldn’t be talking about this anymore,” Jenkins said, before calling out Descovich, who was not in attendance.
“The person who was sitting in this seat before me is the founder of this organization,” Jenkins added. “I listened to Ms. Descovich say she is fighting against evil, that we are evil,” she said, gesturing to the board.
“Again, practice what you preach. This is not about politics. This is about keeping people safe.”
A group of students and parents from Satellite High School’s fine arts program also pleaded with the board Tuesday to rescind the ban on indoor singing.
The ban, intended to limit the spread of the virus through airborne droplets, has halted the production of high school musicals and choral performances, including Satellite’s planned spring production of Les Misérables.
It is the second school theater season stymied by the pandemic. Student performances were cancelled last spring after the virus led to school closures across the state.
“It is my second year at Satellite High School majoring in American musical theater, and I have not done a musical,” 10th-grader Vincent DeLuca told the board. He said the ban on musicals could hurt his chances to attend college for the performing arts.
“Other counties having their kids do musicals is giving their kids an unfair advantage,” DeLuca said.
Other commenters said it was unfair that indoor athletic events were allowed to continue while indoor musical performances were not.
“All I ask is for you to please give us the chance you have, respectfully, given everyone else,” Satellite senior Gabriel Waterman said.
Board member Katye Campbell, a former music teacher, said she empathized with the students but defended the ban, citing research that showed the risk of indoor singing for spreading the virus.
Recommended guidelines for safe singing included no more than 30 minutes indoors in a triple-ply mask, with “an hour of airing out the facility afterward,” Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Soliven said.
“The risk from singing indoors is something that has made the flexibility they desire difficult for us to approve,” Soliven said.
Superintendent Mark Mullins pointed out indoor non-musical plays and outdoor performances were still allowed under the current policy. Soliven said schools were free to submit for approval alternative performance plans that followed district requirements.
Board members agreed to revisit the topic at the next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 23, on the request of Vice Chair Matt Susin.
“We all know, no matter how hard we think about it, this thing may be around another year,” Susin said of the pandemic. “If that’s the case, I don’t want to go into a third year telling kids no.”
Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Please consider subscribing to support important local news on education, business, crime and other topics you care about.
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