Florida Second Grader Defies School Mask Mandate, Suspended for 36 Days, Told Will Repeat Year

By Neil Campbell | November 11, 2021
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
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8-year-old Fiona Lashells defied Palm Beach County's mandatory mask mandate and was suspended for 36 days and told she would repeat 2nd grade.
Families protest mask mandates before the Hillsborough County Schools Board meeting held on July 27, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. 8-year-old Fiona Lashells was suspended for 36 days and told she would have to repeat second grade because she refused to wear a mask after Governor Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order forbidding mandates in public schools. (Image: Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

A young Florida girl who refused to comply with a Palm Beach County mandatory mask mandate has been suspended for 36 days and told she will have to repeat second grade, according to reports. 

Tampa Free Press (TFP) covered the story, which has been an ongoing saga since the end of August, on Nov. 1. Fiona Lashells, 8, was described in the article by her mother Bailey as “a child who loves the typical things kids her age do: arts and crafts, drawing, making jewelry, painting, and getting to be a fun-loving kid.”

Bailey was quoted as noting that “Fiona has changed her priorities a bit and is on a mission to take back, not only her rights but every American child’s constitutional rights from the tyrant school board being operated by a financial expert who has no knowledge of how to safely and effectively run the 10th largest school district in America.”

The article said on Aug. 31, Fiona was first disciplined by administration by being forced to eat lunch alone in a hallway.

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After refusing to submit to pressure and retribution, the second grader was later handed an out-of-school suspension for 36 days. Bailey said the school took retaliation one step further when her daughter “was recently told after completing every assignment her teacher will provide that she is not only failing 2nd grade but that there is no way she could catch up, per her teacher.”

While the Lashells’ comments may, at first glance, seem to be those of an extreme anti-masker, New York Post reported in coverage of the story on Nov. 3 that Governor Ron DeSantis signed an Executive Order forbidding mandatory masking in public schools as far back as July.

TFP framed Palm Beach County as “one of the most heavily Democratic strongholds in the state” and refers to School Board member Alexandria Ayala as “one of the main cheerleaders for mandatory masking.”

In an August tweet, Ayala called a ruling by a Tallahassee judge against DeSantis’s Executive Order a “Win for student/teacher safety!” 

“This ruling affirms that we have constitutional rights as board members to implement mask policies,” she said.

Ayala also took up pen against DeSantis in an appeal to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and authored an opinion piece in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel where she called mask rationality “dangerous and irresponsible.”

The member postured her motivations as rooted in protecting the children, “As a school board, we have a sworn duty to do everything in our power to make schools the safest environment possible…Right now, there are far too many unknown variables in this pandemic for ‘no restrictions’ to be the law of the land.” 

TFP challenged Ayala after the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County held a black-tie gala where the Board member was photographed standing shoulder-to-shoulder with ten other people, without a single mask in sight.

A Nov. 5 article by ABC noted that not only had another judge upheld DeSantis’s Executive Order when presented with legal challenges from smaller school districts, but that the State “began deducting an amount equal to a month’s pay from school board members in counties that defied the mask mandate ban,” in addition to slashing funding to defiant districts, leaving them reliant on stimulus from the Biden administration’s infrastructure packages.

A Nov. 2 article by Fox News linked to a YouTube video showing Fiona explaining her reasoning for not wearing a mask, which was quickly censored for “violating YouTube’s Community guidelines.”

On Nov. 3, Fiona appeared on a televised Fox & Friends segment alongside Gov. DeSantis, where she was free to speak, “I’m not wearing a mask because you touch it and you have germs on your hands. And then you put it on your face, and breathe in all the germs.”

DeSantis addressed Palm Beach County’s defiance of his Executive Order on mask mandates, “We’ve had a lot of litigation since then. Fortunately, we’re winning a lot of these cases,” and promised to strengthen legislation.

When Fiona was asked by the commentators about her feelings on being told she would have to repeat second grade, she answered, “I don’t feel good about that, and I don’t want to take the grade over again because I’ve also been doing most of the work at home.”

DeSantis commented, “They’re not following Florida law. The School Board members who defy Florida law, a lot of them cohort around maskless all the time in situations they’re requiring Fiona to do it… to keep a child out of school that long, that’s totally unacceptable.”

The Governor pledged to “give parents recourse” against School Boards who defy childrens’ rights.

Fiona addressed the Palm Beach County School Board on Nov. 3 after her appearance on Fox, where she said, “He [DeSantis] told you to stop what you are doing to me. It is illegal…I’m still going to stand up for what I believe in, and nothing is going to change my mind. That is not fair. I still have the right to not wear a mask, and I’m not going to wear one.”

“I am doing this for other kids, not just myself,” she said, expressing her hopes that “you all go to jail for doing this to me.”

At the end, Fiona addressed a Board executive and began to say “I want to say you suck, but…” and was interrupted when a Board Member shouted “Turn off the microphone!” leading to jeers from the audience.

The YouTube channel StandUpForFiona published its own interview with the youth after meeting with Governor DeSantis and being given the opportunity to stand up for herself before the School Board where she said, “I had so much fun that day.”

“I think I’ll remember it forever.”

When Bailey asked Fiona if she had anything else to say, she decisively reiterated, “Yeah. I’m doing this for other kids, and not just myself.”

In the video, Bailey says Fiona can return to school on Nov. 15, only because the Board decided to relax the mandatory mask decree.