LARGO, FL — A mother of two children waiting her turn to speak to the Pinellas County School Board about the school mask mandate Tuesday was arrested and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, trespassing and disorderly conduct after refusing to wear a mask.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Kari L. Turner, 40, of Largo was arrested at the Pinellas County School Administration building, 301 4th St. S.W., Largo.
The sheriff's office said Turner, who was accompanied by her two school-age children, refused a request by Pinellas County School District Police Department Sgt. William Connell to don a face mask, which is required in all school district buildings. Connell then told her she had to leave the building. Again, she refused, according to the sheriff's office.
That prompted school district attorney David Koperski to intervene, telling Turner several times that she could not remain on the property without a face mask.
When she still wouldn't comply, Connell arrested her for trespassing and disorderly conduct. As he was escorting Turner to a patrol car, he said she became combative. Connell requested assistance from another officer. At that point, they said Turner kicked Connell three times in the hand, arm and upper thigh.
While no one became physically aggressive during the school board meeting, the discussion frequently became heated as 25 parents spoke out against the mandatory face mask rule.
At one point, Isaiah Nile of Clearwater, who has three school-aged children, removed his mask while speaking to the school board.
Superintendent Michael Grego instructed him to put his mask back on or he would cut off the microphone. When Nile refused, Grego followed through but not before Nile made his point.
"Why hasn't it (the coronavirus) spiked in day cares and preschools where face masks aren't required?" he asked. "Is the virus smart enough to leave a 3-year-old alone but go after a 5-year-old?"
Several other parents had to be warned to keep their mouths and noses covered including St. Pete Beach mother Yvette Gaugh, who pulled her mask forward on her face while speaking because she said she was having trouble breathing.
When Grego chastised her, saying he could see her mouth, Gaugh responded, "Give me a break. You're 25 feet away from me. I feel like I'm walking around in the 'Twilight Zone.'"
Gaugh accused the school board of fearmongering.
"2.4 million people have died (of coronavirus) in this country," she said, adding that 79 percent of the deaths were among people over the age of 65. "Why aren't we talking about the 2.2 million that have died of cancer and heart disease?"
She said hand sanitizer is destroying the good bacteria that protects humans and face masks worn for long periods of times by students become moist with saliva and actually cause illness.
"Think about what you're doing right now," she said. "It's child abuse."
Douglas Fox, the grandfather of elementary children, said he couldn't understand why masks are mandatory in school but not on the high school football field where players are physically tackling one another.
Debra Williams nearly lost her temper when it was her turn to speak.
"I'm angry at every one of you because you're not letting our children breathe. You're harming them," she said, adding that she pulled her children out of school. "I want you to feel our pain. You need to make it a choice. It damages our children psychologically, physically. You are abusing our children and I want you to hear every word of this."
Heather Patrick, who has four children in school, said she never wears a mask but relented for the school board meeting because "I don't want to get arrested like the woman downstairs."
She held one of her young children, Aberdeen, who took over the microphone to tell the school board, "Scary masks are scary."
Disputing accusations by some parents, Grego said politics has nothing to do with the mask mandate. The school board also watching out for not only the health of students but the health of the 14,000 adults employed by the district, one of the county's largest employers.
"This is temporary," he told parents. "These decisions are being made solely for the safety of our students and employees. Unfortunately, there's a lot of anger out there. We need to stay calm and work together."
"We're not cold, unthinking individuals," said mother and school board member Eileen Long. "I've spent many sleepless nights."
At the same time, Long confessed that she has lupus, an autoimmune disease which makes her susceptible to serious consequences if she contracts the coronavirus.
"So when you don't wear masks, you are taking away my rights," she said.
Board member Bill Dudley agreed.
"We do care. I'm not going to let anyone say I'm an uncaring individual," he said. "But we have to look out for the common good of everyone. The problem with giving an option is that it has an effect on others."
He said the numbers prove that masks are working. The school district has had an average of three or four children a day test positive for the coronavirus out of 84,000 children in the school system.
"That's pretty darn good when you think of the number of contacts every day," he said. "When it comes time, we'll dump them (masks). But right now I think it's in everyone's best interest.
For as many of you who came forth, we have as many on the other side of the coin."
The board voted to keep the mandate but add a provision that it will revisit the policy every three months.
The lone dissenter was school board member Lisa Cane who said she thought the parents made some valid points.