Emotions run high at school board meeting

Last night’s School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting started on a positive note with a recognition of local teachers and employees.

“Alachua County Public Schools proclaims the entire month of May 2021 to be Alachua County Public Schools Teachers and Staff Month in recognition of the role the school district’s employees have played in promoting the health and well-being of students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic,” read ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson.

Then came the public comment portion of the meeting. Citizens started to weigh in on the district’s face mask policy, even though it was unrelated to the agenda item at hand. Those comments were soon followed by a disagreement between SBAC chair Leanetta McNealy and board member Rob Hyatt that resulted in the banging of the gavel and a call for an unplanned recess.

Hyatt’s procedural question sparked the move.

“Every time we’ve had something in consent, every time, and we had one board member that wanted to ask more than a real quick clarifying question, we’ve always moved it [off the consent agenda],” Hyatt said after being recognized by the chair.

“Is this a new way we are doing things?” he asked after board members asked several questions about two consent agenda items.

“No sir, it’s not. I am chair, and I decided to let my colleague [Board Member Tina] Certain ask the question,” McNealy responded. “I’m chair, and no matter what has happened in the past, this is the way I’m handling it tonight.” 

McNealy continued: “And so I asked for a question, I asked for Dr. Paulson to ask his, if you have one, if McGraw has one, you can all ask. We’re not pulling it unless you ask for it to be pulled. Period.”

McNealy then turned to ACPS attorney David Delaney to see if she was correct in her statement.

“That’s the short and sweet of it,” Delaney stated.

“I asked a question, I didn’t ask for a lecture,” Hyatt retorted. 

McNealy then hit the gavel four times

“We’re going to take a short recess. I’m not going to do this. Not tonight,” she said. “Recess everybody.”

At that point the meeting live stream cut from the room and showed the ACPS logo on the screen for 10 minutes.

When the meeting resumed, the board unanimously voted to approve the consent agenda, which included six items.

After the delay, emotions continued to run high as calls for the end of the face mask requirement came in. Several parents approached the podium in person, some urging continued face mask use and others saying it was not necessary.

When parent James Burdette came to the podium, he spoke in a way that one board member said felt like a threat.

At the 2 hour, 16 minute mark of the meeting Burdette addressed the district mitigation efforts that remain in place despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ending of local emergency orders.

“You’re in a tough position,” Burdette started to say before lowering his mask.

“You’ve been dreading this for six months. And part of the reason is you’ve put the policies in place that you did. This is coming to an end, one way or another,” he said. “You’ve been given warnings and you’ve been given opportunities in April and this month from the Department of Education and the governor. They’re letting you save face. They’re letting you end this. Masks on kids are deadly. We have a rise nationwide of kids committing suicide. Of kids feeling ostracized and marginalized, and this is unacceptable.

“A lot of you are up for reelection and you will get fierce opposition,” Burdette continued. “And you think this fight is fierce? The next one that I know is coming—and we already know what it’s all about—is gonna be even fiercer. See the writing on the wall. Either end it yourself, or the governor will end it for you. There is no other option. Thank you for your time.”

“Madame Chair, that sounds very threatening,” said board member Diyonne McGraw after Burdette walked away. McNealy did not respond.

More parents came to the podium and others called in asking for a return to normalcy. Some claimed that face masks are dangerous, others said their children with learning disabilities were being stunted socially and intellectually. Other parents thanked Simon and the SBAC for following the science and continuing mitigation efforts.

In response to Burdette’s comments and whether it was a threat, ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said told Mainstreet Daily News: “Our security chief is reviewing that situation and will follow up appropriately.”

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