For Florida school authorities, criticism becomes personal as problems worsen

Caprice Edmond knew what was coming before the speaker opened his mouth.

Since advocating a strict mask mandate in Pinellas County’s schools, the first-semester school board member has received criticism – not just of her position, but of her home and family. It happens in the boardroom, in the community, and also on social media.

And this time it shouldn’t be any different.

Pinellas School Board member Caprice Edmond. [ Courtesy of Caprice Edmond ]

The speaker began by saying that trying to impose mask requirements without giving parents the option to opt out was “criminal and unlawful” and then quickly turned to the question of how the maker of the motion was “criminal” in the Has family and this “must”. Edmond’s husband, a civil rights activist, has been charged with a crime in the past and some of her opponents have posted information about it on Twitter and other channels.

She said she wished CEO Carol Cook had cut off the comment earlier.

“It’s horrible,” Edmond said of the repeated attempts to pull her family into their political position. But she insisted it didn’t intimidate her.

“I think people voted for me for a reason,” said Edmond, who launched her re-election bid for 2022 on Friday. “I will continue my job.”

The school board member’s job has been scrutinized over the past few months as boards have confronted some of the hottest problems in the country in a way that directly and directly affects children and families. Topics included masks, racial relations, and transgender student rights, and people got angry.

The resulting struggles, which at times became physical, have resulted in high-ranking politicians like Governor Ron DeSantis being urged to focus on overseeing local bodies to implement preferred policies. Republicans in the House and Senate have passed legislation to convert bipartisan board seats into partisan positions.

Political action committees have started to support the candidates. And efforts have not always remained focused on the issues.

Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina fears that when board members see their families drawn into the picture, some people who would otherwise be drawn to the civil service might turn away.

“The real problem is that in this country we have always valued the civil society discourse,” said Messina. “It’s gotten vicious. It has become unnecessarily partisan. And it has become threatening to many members of the community, as well as to the district staff and officials. And it’s not okay. “

When people run for public office, they understand that they are opening up to the public and accepting that criticism can follow. But they don’t necessarily expect their family members to be attacked.

“It has become a challenge,” said Messina.

And it happens to board members from across the political spectrum.

Member of the Pasco County School Board, Megan Harding.
Member of the Pasco County School Board, Megan Harding. [ Courtesy of Megan Harding campaign ]

Megan Harding, a member of the Pasco County’s school committee who supported parents’ choice of masks, came to a recent board meeting angry that some residents who were pushing for a mandate had them on social media through her husband’s Facebook posts had attacked.

They peeled off some of his gun and government comments, calling Harding and her husband “Q Followers” to convey a “twisted agenda” to the district.

“It has nothing to do with my job,” said Harding, who is aiming for a second term in 2022, later. “He’s my favorite person in the whole world. But that doesn’t mean that we always agree. “

She added that she had asked her husband to stop posting incendiary material, and he agreed. Still, she argued, his comments shouldn’t reflect her.

Wendy Jaeger, a parent of Zephyrhills who shared some of the posts, couldn’t have objected anymore.

“My mindset about each of these board members is seeing what they post online and what their spouses post, it tells you a lot about who they really are,” she said.

Jaeger called the idea of ​​Harding distancing himself from her husband’s views “crap” and said she expected Harding “to try to portray herself as something she is not”.

Like some of the Pinellas residents who attacked Edmond, Jaeger said she would do “everything in my power” to oust board members she disagrees with. With some residents showing up outside board members’ homes to protest, some wonder how far that could go.

“I have 2 million followers on Facebook,” said Pinellas County’s anti-mask activist Jonathan Riches, the local board during a meeting. “We share these videos. We talk about you. … we have pictures of you without masks. We know who you are. “

Riches declined to be interviewed for this story.

Bridget Ziegler, member of the Sarasota County School Board.
Bridget Ziegler, member of the Sarasota County School Board. [ Facebook ]

Bridget Ziegler, a member of the Sarasota County School Board, whose downright conservative views have made her a target in her community, said she had also become familiar with personal and family attacks. They’ve gotten worse since their first election in 2014, she added.

Over the years, she has been accused of dressing her then 10-month-old daughter as a “little whore”. She tried to undermine her regular employment. She recently received a message on social media saying, “Your mother should have planned parenting.”

“The personal attacks are disgusting,” said Ziegler, who described it as “tragic” that the bourgeois debate about politics seems to have fallen by the wayside. “There are definitely moments when I pause and think, ‘Is it worth it?'”

Like Harding and Edmond, she plans to be re-elected next year. For Ziegler, it’s about influencing the school environment for one’s own children and their peers.

“I understand the impact these choices have on real life,” she said.

Harding said that when she is discouraged, she remembers her “why”.

“I want the students and teachers to make sure they get the top-notch education they deserve,” she said. “I wake up every day and I still love what I do and I’m still impressed that the community chose me for it.”

Edmond also looked past her critics who accused her husband of illegal activities and protested outside her home. Paying attention to them distracts from the important issues, she said, despite admitting steps to protect her family.

“I’m not going to be intimidated,” said Edmond, drawing courage from her “extremely supportive” base in southern Pinellas County. “If problems arise, I can stand up for them. Love is real. “

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