As schools reopened in Florida, several parents in Flagler County received weekend phone calls saying their children were on “a list” because they “may” have been exposed to someone who “may” have had COVID-19. Some parents were told their children could not return to school until they passed a series of COVID-19 tests. Other children were pulled from class and placed in isolation while parents were called and told to come pick them up “immediately.” The process has caused confusion and raised legal questions, leaving many parents feeling very angry.
On Aug. 8, Jessico Bowman—a director of the Florida Liberty Caucus—received a call from a person who claimed she was from the “health department.” She would not give her name. Nor would she identify which “health department” she represented.
“I regret to inform you that your daughter may have been exposed to COVID,” the woman said.
“I don’t have a daughter,” Bowman told the woman. “I have a son.”
When Bowman asked what “list” she was talking about the woman said “it was just this list” she was given and she explained that her son “may have been exposed” to someone “who may have COVID.” When she asked what she meant by “may have” and asked when her son was “exposed,” the woman said she could not tell her anything except that her son “has been placed on a list.”
The woman then asked if her son had been vaccinated. Bowman refused to provide that information.
The woman then told Bowman if her son “could provide a vaccine card,” proving he is vaccinated, he could “go back to normal” and return to class on Monday. Otherwise, he would not be allowed to go back to school for four days, and if he “doesn’t get tested, it would be eight days.”
The next day Bowmans’ son went to the bus stop but the bus never arrived. So Bowman drove her son to school. Later that morning, the school nurse called to say her son had “been quarantined and will be isolated” unless she comes to pick him up. The nurse reiterated that the child had been “exposed,” to COVID-19 and was “on a list,” so, “he needed to be picked up immediately.”
“No one will tell us what this ‘list’ is and they keep telling me my son ‘may’ have been exposed to COVID or ‘may’ have been in close contact with someone who ‘may’ have had COVID. So my son starts texting me saying ‘you need to come get me. They have me in a COVID room and there’s someone monitoring us so we can’t talk to other kids.’”
“My son felt like he was in school suspension, like he had done something wrong,” Bowman said. “They were very rude to him and the school has already apologized to me for that.”
“I completely understand your concerns,” the newly appointed principal for Indian Trails Middle School Ryan Andrews replied to an email of complaint by Bowman.
“Currently, your student will be excused from school until August 21st, until we hear something different from the DOH (Department of Health). Any work he is unable to complete at home may have up to the same amount of days that he was absent to turn in after his return to school. With our student ipads he will have his login to Schoology. His teachers may post work, content and resources for students to complete digitally. He and his teachers can communicate through Schoology or our school email. Let me apologize for any improper treatment of you and your son today. Our priority is the safety and security of our school so our scholars can have a positive learning experience.”
Chris Bowman, the child’s father, told The Epoch Times: “Something bizarre has occurred where the school has relinquished control to the health department. That’s the problem and we’re sitting on day four now,”
“We still have not been contacted directly by the health department regarding whether there was a definitive COVID exposer,” Chris Bowman added. “The school only says that our son ‘may’ have been exposed to someone who ‘may’ have COVID and that our kid is on ‘a list.’ Nor have we received curriculum directives or any idea how we are supposed to be educating our child. With the health department in control of our kid’s education, we can’t navigate this because there’s zero communication.”
“We’re not requiring vaccinations. That’s not what’s happening,” Flagler County Schools Community Information Specialist Jason Wheeler told The Epoch Times. “The only reason a child would be placed in the isolation room for their parents to pick them up would be if they were caught in a contact trace where they tested positive. Then we’ve been notified by the local Health Department and until they pass the protocols established by the Health Department they can’t return to school.”
But the Bowmans’ son never “tested positive” for COVID-19. In fact, the Bowmans insist their child spent the entire summer at home with family.
“If they were on a list that’s provided to us by the health department, [it’s] someone who is caught in a close contact situation,” Wheeler said further. “Then they would have to sit out and go through the protocols established by the health department.”
A Palm Coast mother told The Epoch Times she also received a call from the health department saying her son had also “possibly” been exposed to COVID-19. She was told to have her son tested for COVID-19 on Sunday. If Sunday’s test proved negative, her son would have to get a second test on Monday. If Monday’s test proved negative, he could return to school on Tuesday, but then he would have to be retested on Wednesday.
“That kind of defeats the purpose in my mind,” the mother said, “to let him come back and then go get tested again.”
The paper given to her by the health department after her son was tested showed a negative result. However, he was instructed to “TREAT YOURSELF AS IF YOU ARE POSITIVE.”
It is unclear why none of the other students from the boy’s class were deemed by the health department as having been “caught in a close contact situation” and ordered to “sit out and go through the protocols established by the health department.” Furthermore, none of the other parents received a phone call saying their child had also “possibly” been exposed to COVID-19.
Invasion of Privacy
Alyssa Paffrath has an 11-year-old son in the sixth grade at Bunnell Elementary. He was asked by a teacher if he had the vaccine “on his first day of school.”
“He said she sat them all down and asked by a show of hands how old the students were,” Paffrath told The Epoch Times, “and then she asked, who among them had gotten the vaccine. A handful raised their hands and she said ‘Good for you. That’s great. We’re all doing our part,’ and then she went on to read the CDC guidelines to my 11-year-old during class time. I am so upset about all of this. I don’t send my kid to school for them to help him make medical decisions. I make his medical decisions. So I am beyond livid about this.”
Making matters worse, Paffrath said this teacher reminds them every day that masks are recommended, except for people who have been vaccinated.
“The irony is that my 11-year-old asked ‘why does she keep saying the vaccinated don’t need a mask when she read us the guidelines that says the vaccinated need masks, too?’ The fact that my 11-year-old can pick up the hypocrisy of this is absurd as well.”
Paffrath said her son is worried about repercussions, explaining that the teacher is constantly praising the ones who say they’ve gotten the vaccination. She tells her students to bring a mask every day, instructing them that, “if they need to sneeze they can pull their mask out and sneeze into the mask.”
“And then she did a demonstration on how to properly sneeze into a mask,” Paffrath said. “This is so absurd to me. I’m sick to my stomach that this is happening in schools. It’s just absurd to me that instead of learning math and geography, this is what’s being focused on.”
“I have several FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests out,” Tim Sharp, Vice Chair of the Florida Republican Liberty Caucus, told The Epoch Times. “I’m looking for communication from the health department to the school regarding the Bowmans’ son, specifically what was said and where the information came from. I want to see exactly what that communication looked like, who it came from and when it was sent to see if it was a coordinated event.”
According to Sharp, “many other parents around town were asked about their children’s vaccination status.”
“I’ve spoken to two other parents whose children were asked,” Sharp said, adding that “the common thread is every student that’s being asked has as a religious exemption.”
“Different schools, different ages, different parts of town and that’s the only commonality,” Sharp said of the telling coincidence. “They have a religious exemption. Something’s going sideways somewhere.”
Paffrath confirmed to The Epoch Times that, like the Bowmans’ son, her child also has a religious exemption.
“This is what my fiance got from the health department after an hour and a half wait,” Wendy Maria shared on Facebook on Aug. 21. A photo showed the paper she received from the health department after her son was subjected to two rapid COVID-19 tests:
“What a joke,” Maria posted.
It is not clear why the documents given to two separate parents by the same health department are structured and colored so differently.
“My nephew was called last Saturday to quarantine,” Kaitlin Larywon shared in a post, explaining that if he was negative “he could return to school Tuesday.” But they recommended “getting tested again Wednesday (after he had already returned to school for two days).”
“Don’t think they really know what the actual plan is,” Larywon added.
“Negative tests – not good enough,” Casey Goff posted satirically. “Please see the Health Department for the faulty PCR test that will tell you that your child is positive so that we can meet our covid numbers and quarantine your healthy child for a month.”
“Ridiculous,” Goff added.
School Board Meeting Shut Down
On Aug. 17, the Flagler County School Board heard from a lot of annoyed parents. Some were fed up with threats of more mask mandates. Most came in support of the Bowmans’ son. But tempers didn’t flare until Flagler County School Board General Counsel Kristy Gavin suddenly shut down the meeting and told everyone to leave the room.
A mask-clad Nicole Graves—Public Information Specialist at East Flagler Mosquito Control—had just left the podium.
While she said she empathized with what the Bowmans’ son went through, she was angry because people were clapping in support of the family and those who opposed mask mandates. She was angry because “one of the board members was cheering.” She was angry because some people insisted on having an “individual plan” rather than submitting to the “public plan” and she angrily reminded the board that a warning had been issued, that if anyone else clapped “everyone would be thrown out.”
“Do you remember that?” She yelled. “I don’t understand why we can’t follow the rules, including you board members who are even supporting and cheering for people. We all need to play by the same level playing field.”
When Gavin ordered people to leave the room, some refused to comply. School board members paced uncomfortably behind the dais as constituents shouted “shame on you,” “cowards,” “pack your bags,” and “you can be replaced.”
Law enforcement eventually cleared the room until citizens reminded law enforcement that barring citizens from observation of a public meeting was in violation of Florida Sunshine Laws and the citizens were allowed back in.
“Police lined up in front of the doors denying people entry, in violation of the Sunshine Laws,” Tim Sharp, Vice Chair of the Florida Republican Liberty Caucus told The Epoch Times. “They cleared the room because of clapping. There were literally 12 police cars in the parking lot and they evacuated the room because people had been clapping.”
“This is going to boil over,”