Families for Safe Schools group, parents against conservative policies, to disband
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COVID-19 was raging across Florida with the Delta variant as summer 2021 came to a close.
Gov. Ron DeSantis had issued an executive order that prohibited school boards from putting mask mandates back in place. Without vaccines widely available to kids yet, Brevard Public Schools went against the order.
At school board meetings often filled with anger over that decision, parents Jabari Hosey, Kim Hough and a small group of others — who were in support of COVID-19 mitigation efforts — wanted their voices heard. They later formed a nonprofit, Families for Safe Schools, that regularly took the opposite views of conservative groups like Moms for Liberty as education became increasingly polarized over issues such as LGBTQ policies, history classes and book bans.
Hough, the organization's vice president, ran for school board in the 2022 election, but lost. They saw the Brevard School Board swing to the right, and DeSantis lead a charge on educational policies their group opposed.
Now, a year after officially becoming a nonprofit, Families for Safe Schools said they are disbanding. And more, four of the seven board members are leaving Florida, while another plans to leave Brevard County. They'll be moving to more blue areas, including California, the Atlanta area and Tallahassee.
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“It’s the laws now that really hinder the ability for an alternative voice to really be heard here and in the state,” Hough said. “It would be great to be able to say, ‘We’re going to stay and fight and fight and fight,’ but from our governor to our local elected officials, they have targeted public education, and they’re not going to stop.”
Hough said she's leaving because her children have many years of education ahead of them and she doesn't want them to grow up in the state as Florida experiences a "rapid deterioration of a care for actual freedom to learn for all kids."
Hosey, whose three children are all in elementary school, shared a similar sentiment, attributing his decision to a number of factors, such as new state legislation, the current debate about discipline at Brevard Public Schools and book banning.
"It's an environment here to that to me is unsustainable," Hosey said.
The organization formed in 2021 as a group of parents in favor of masking policies in Brevard Public Schools, though it didn’t officially become a nonprofit until January 2022. Families for Safe Schools stood for six “pillars,” according to the nonprofit’s website. Those included COVID-19 mitigation in schools, protecting public education, LGBTQ rights, historically accurate education within public schools, stopping gun violence and supporting teachers.
“We did this not just so that we can fight for our kids, but for people’s kids who don’t have parents that are fighting because they’re just tapped out in terms of they’re trying to survive,” Hough said, referencing the number of low-income families in Brevard County.
Though their social media group had about 2,500 members, it was a challenge to get people to show up in person. By comparison, Moms for Liberty grew from its inception in Brevard and Indian River counties to include 266 chapters and more than 100,000 members across 44 states. All three candidates who won seats on the Brevard school board in the last election were endorsed by Moms for Liberty.
Families for Safe Schools didn’t necessarily expect to change everything, but they hoped to help make an impact locally, Hosey said. Families for Safe Schools worked with other local groups, such as Space Coast Pride and Moms Demand Action, to raise awareness on issues within schools, help register voters for the 2022 election and rally against laws and policies they opposed.
“We were a last-ditch effort,” he said. “The tables were turning, and that’s why we jumped in there. We created Families for Safe Schools because we were trying to bring balance.”
Since its formation, a stream of local and state legislation in opposition to its core pillars has arisen, including the Parental Rights Bill and the Stop WOKE Act, which limits what can be taught in a classroom; books being challenged and removed from classroom libraries; masks becoming fully optional in Brevard Public Schools in 2022 with no mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine for staff or students; a heavier presence of guns in schools after Sheriff Wayne Ivey announced in August that school resource officers would be armed with long guns in response to the Uvalde shooting; and more.
“We hopped in there to try and turn that tide, where rationale, data, metrics, intelligence — these things would tip the scale, whether it’s for elections for local representation, whether it was changes in the school board, whether it’s asking for us to do things like (an) equity audit and look at why we have such a low percentage of African American and Hispanic teachers,” Hosey said.
Though both Hosey and Hough are moving their families out of Florida, they believe the fight isn't over and will be continued locally through other Brevard groups with similar mission.
“There is space for another," Hosey said.
"If it needs to be another group, if there needs to be organizations coming together and forming some sort of catalyst or coalition, that is there and they could be the greatest thing in the world, and we don’t have to worry about Families for Safe Schools per se by name, but just keep that movement going."
Finch Walker is the education reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or email@example.com. Twitter: @_finchwalker
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard student advocacy group disbands, cites Republican shift