BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, members passed new boundaries for some district schools, while some parents criticized an upcoming staff training as “extreme leftist” and a bus driver plead for higher wages to offset a driver shortage crisis.
COVID-19 was not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, but the board mentioned some of the difficulties the district has faced in dealing with the latest surge driven by the highly-contagious omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
Brevard Public Schools saw 298 cases from Thursday to Monday, lower than the record high numbers from last week. From Tuesday to Thursday, the district reported 978 new cases, its highest tally ever reported in its twice-weekly reports. From Jan. 7-Jan. 10, the district reported 658 cases.
Last week School Board Chair Misty Belford told FLORIDA TODAY bus driver shortages — which have hampered the district since the beginning of the year — caused some routes to run late. Belford said at Tuesday’s meeting that the shortage was largely related to COVID-19 testing shortages. She thanked Florida Rep. Tyler Sirois for assisting the district with acquiring COVID-19 tests from Brevard Health Alliance.
“Almost half of our bus drivers were out the first week of school,” Belford said. “Not all of them with COVID, but people couldn’t get tests.”
Mark Rainey, a bus driver for the district, spoke to the district about raising starting salaries for bus drivers to take some of the burden off workers.
“We need to be able to recruit more drivers,” Rainey said. “We’re 60 drivers short. It is a bus driver crisis.”
Compared to the non-stop contentious meetings of 2021 when COVID was last surging, this most recent school board event was a relatively civil affair with less of the yelling and theatrics that disrupted meetings last year. Since the state legislature removed the ability of local school boards to demand mask mandates and broad quarantines, much of the tension has dissipated from the public meetings. But there were still reminders during the meeting that school boards remain on the front lines of Florida’s culture wars.
Several speakers from the conservative parents’ group Moms for Liberty questioned an agenda item that would allow the district to spend $79,500 on 53 tickets to Conscious Discipline Institute. They said the training involved critical race theory, and one speaker said the organization behind the training had a “partisan extremist social agenda.”
Conscious Discipline, Inc. teaches schools and parents social-emotional learning, a common educational strategy that aims to help children manage emotions, achieve goals and resolve conflict. But based on a 2020 blog post on the organization’s website, a handful of Moms for Liberty members accused the organization of having a leftist ideology.
“If you go to the Conscious Discipline website, which is the people who run this training, it is very clear that this organization is far left,” said Katie Delaney, a member of Moms for Liberty.
Delaney pointed to a 2020 blog post on the website titled “Raising Antiracist Kids: 9 Steps from Ibram X. Kendi.” Kendi is an anti-racism activist, author and the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. The organization linked to a free seminar Kendi was speaking at.
“SEL advances equity and inclusion, but Conscious Discipline recognizes that SEL alone isn’t enough to resolve longstanding inequities,” the organization wrote in its blog post. “We must directly promote equity, listen and learn from one another, and have conversations that feel challenging or uncomfortable.”
School Board member Matt Susin said in response to the concerns that the district still had time to review the training before it takes place this summer.
“We’ve made a dedication to our people that we will not teach CRT inside of our schools, and we won’t do it in any of the training,” Susin said.
The board passed changes to several school boundaries, including those between:
- Apollo Elementary and Imperial Estates Elementary
- Heritage High School and Bayside High School
- Meadowlane Primary Elementary School and Discovery Elementary School
- Satellite High School, DeLaura Middle and Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High
- Meadowlane Primary Elementary to Discovery Elementary
- Delaura Middle and Satellite High to Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr High
- Heritage High to Bayside High
- Apollo Elementary to Imperial Estates Elementary
The changes will take place during the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years due to “significant growth anticipated in the area south of U.S. Route 192 and west of Interstate 95.”
Some parents at the meeting criticized the boundary changes, saying that although most will go into effect in two years, their children had already had their lives destabilized by COVID-19 and didn’t deserve to be uprooted from their schools.