“This is Santa Rosa County, not China,” he taunted.
If she had caught what was said, Ueberschaer, who has lived in the Florida Panhandle county since 1998, would have rebuked the derogatory comments, she told The Washington Post.
“We expect mutual respect and common courtesy from our students, so we expect the same from the adults who attend the school board meetings,” she said.
In the video clip of the unruly meeting, which has been viewed more than 200,000 times on Twitter, Ueberschaer and board members chose to lift the mask order, replacing it with a recommendation.
Their decision reflects a difficult balancing act faced by city councils, school boards and other governing bodies still stuck in a political quagmire, leaving their members in the crosshairs of criticism. Throughout the pandemic, face coverings have been a tool in partisan feuds. Even as people increasingly forecast an end to the public health crisis and federal guidance has lifted some mask recommendations for vaccinated people, the mitigation measure remains a contentious issue.
The day after the meeting in Florida, anti-mask protesters shut down a school board gathering in Utah, chanting “no more masks.” On Thursday, a group of parents in Kansas filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against education officials, arguing their children should be allowed to attend school during the pandemic without wearing masks.
The country’s decentralized political system has contributed to inconsistent enforcement of a simple tactic to prevent spreading the infection.
In Florida, where some counties and cities continued to require masks, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed an executive order Monday invalidating local emergency orders, saying they were no longer needed. The state’s department of education later clarified that the order did not affect school districts.
The governor’s announcement happened after the Santa Rosa meeting, where some parents echoed arguments that DeSantis and former president Donald Trump have made that masks can have detrimental effects on children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises mask-wearing for children age 2 and up, and the World Health Organization recommends masks for children 12 and above.
At the meeting, as Ueberschaer recommended parents tell their children to respect the decisions of their masked peers, the raucous crowd interrupted her, shouting over her as she explained that other parents and students had a differing view than the hecklers.
“You’re a communist,” a man shouted as she spoke.
Addressing the group after Ueberschaer, Superintendent Karen Barber explained that the board was also considering the input of parents in favor of a mask mandate who had written emails to board members, which drew screams from the crowd.
Barber, in a statement shared with The Post on Friday, said the jabs made at the school board meeting “were not representative of our community and will not be tolerated.”
“As always, the School Board welcomed community input on this important topic,” she said. “Unfortunately, several individuals chose to shout several inappropriate and derogatory comments which included ones directed at a Board member.”
Ueberschaer, a former science teacher and school board member since 2018, said it was not the first time the audience has become confrontational, but the heated defiance has ramped up during the pandemic. She said that outside of school board meetings, she has not felt targeted by demeaning remarks.
While most people in Santa Rosa are respectful, Ueberschaer believes, she worries about the ripple effect in the community when people make racially insensitive comments.
“I am concerned about students and employees of color who have watched that in my district, and I’m concerned about how they’re feeling,” she said.
“It is a small percentage of my community that feels emboldened enough to conflate this virus with a race,” she added.