TITUSVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated support to parents voicing concerns, specifically over school mask mandates, after the federal government said it would investigate “threats of violence” against educators.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the FBI to work with local officials to help address a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” toward teachers, administrators and school board members over controversial issues such as mask mandates and the teaching of “critical race theory.”
“I think one of the reasons we wanted to do this is just to make clear that any parent that may feel threatened or cowed into coming out and participating in civil discourse, they shouldn’t be, that you will be protected and that we’re going to make sure to stand with you at the state level,” he said during a news conference Wednesday.
Recently, the National School Boards Association asked President Joe Biden to help investigate threats against educators, attributing the rise to mask mandates intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. The association pointed to instances of intimidation, threats and harassment in states such as Florida, California, Georgia, New Jersey and Ohio.
The governor introduced several parents supportive of the Parents’ Bill of Rights and highlighted recent school board meetings, including in Brevard County, that have seen a higher than average attendance due to mask mandates being in place for students.
“Of course they’re going to want to speak out. Of course, they’re going to want to make their voice heard. I mean, I think that’s, at the bottom what any parent would want to do,” he said.
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey was one of the speakers who joined DeSantis and called the situation with the DOJ “outrageous” for focusing on parents’ efforts.
“For those parents that are out there, I want you to know that from me, all the sheriffs that are standing here, and I think I speak for all of us across this great state: We are your first line of defense, we’re the last line of defense for you as well,” Ivey said.
The governor reiterated the state would not cooperate with federal investigations into parents and “we’ll do whatever we can to thwart such investigations.” He also said the Parents’ Bill of Rights will be “fortified” and “give parents a more speedy and effective way to vindicate their rights.”
The state and several school districts have been in a legal battle over school mask mandates, with Florida proposing last week a long-term rule to try to prevent these mandates and give parents more authority. The proposal is identical to an emergency rule, which generally cannot be in effect more than 90 days, issued Sept. 22 on two key issues: Allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask requirements and allowing children to attend school if they have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic.