A Florida girl proved that it is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog.
Fiona Lashells, 8, attends Discovery Key Elementary School in Lake Worth, Florida along with 845 other K-5 students. The determined youngster has been suspended 38 times by school administrators because she refuses to wear a mask during school, which violates the school’s mandated mask policy. It is unclear what punishment administrators are subject to for violating a Florida state law forbidding public school districts from mandating mask-wearing by students.
Fiona’s mom, Bailey Lashells, described Fiona as a child who loves doing things kids her age typically enjoy, such as arts and crafts, drawing, making jewelry, painting and just being a fun-loving kid. She has unwittingly become the face of a battle between parents and county school boards defying a state policy banning school mask mandates.
The girl’s mother said Fiona complained when she was forced to wear one last year, saying the mask was making her tired, according to a report from The Palm Beach Post. After the mandate was temporarily repealed, Lashells told her daughter she never had to wear a mask again. When the district resumed their mask requirement, Lashells said she told Fiona she did not have to wear a mask at school.
“We promised her she wouldn’t have to wear a mask,” the mother told the Post. “I think that’s what upset her so much. We had made that promise to her at the beginning of the year.”
School Board member Alexandria Ayala has been a forceful advocate for school masking even after she was photographed at a large public function without a mask.
“Decisions made by elected officials outside of our legislative body do not outweigh my responsibility to protect the students and employees of Palm Beach County schools,” Ayala said. “As a school board, we have a sworn duty to do everything in our power to make schools the safest environment possible.”
Fiona first detailed her continuous punishment for refusing to wear a mask during the public comment period of the district’s Sept. 21 Board of Education meeting.
Fiona told the board she was first punished on Aug. 31 by being forced to eat alone in an office, in addition to being reprimanded by an administrator for her polite reply to an educator. She continued haltingly reading from her prepared statement.
“Today I had to go the office and had to stay all the way till lunchtime,” the eight-year-old said. “After lunch, my mom picked me up to come here but before that I heard my assistant principal say I am going to have to stay in the office until I put a mask on, or the entire day.” She added that her birthday was in a month and an administrator said to expect her to wish Fiona “Happy Birthday,” which she took to mean she would still be performing in-school detention.
“My teachers teach me that people can’t touch my body and force me to do stuff on it or do things I don’t want to,” Fiona said. “So I don’t get why I’m getting in trouble for believing, ‘If it’s my body, it’s my choice.'”
“Please stop making me get disciplined for not wearing a mask,” she pleaded to board members. “It’s not fair.”
“I hope everyone doing this to me goes to jail,” the second-grader concluded.
Not long after her appearance before the school board, Fiona appeared on a broadcast of Fox News with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has sought to vigorously enforce the ban on school mask mandates.
“Based on a new development at the State level, the School District will be moving to an opt-out status for facial coverings for students in all grade levels beginning this Monday, November 8, rather than on November 15 as you were originally informed,” the Palm Beach County school district told parents on Nov. 6. “A ruling yesterday by Division of Administrative Hearings Judge Newman found the Department of Health’s Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 to be valid, therefore, a parent face-covering opt-out will be reinstated effective Monday.”
Fiona is now reunited with her classmates and was reportedly met with “the fanfare of a homecoming war veteran” upon her return. “Family and friends waved signs and cheered. A state legislator strode proudly alongside,” according to the Post.
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