Criticism comes with the territory for anyone who runs for a political office. That’s an essential part of democracy which generally, every politician accepts. Sometimes, however, the criticism goes over the line and becomes harassment.
As this school year enters its last week, I spoke to several school board members, in both Miami-Dade and Broward, who told me they’ve been harassed in person, on social media, and through emails and phone calls.
They say it started with the mask mandate issues last fall, when the Miami-Dade and Broward school boards voted to defy the governor and require facial coverings in school, and continued as the state legislature passed controversial laws which impacted education.
Dr. Steve Gallon is one of those board members who say they’ve been on the receiving end of bullying from the public.
“Yes, during the previous year for some of the decisions we had to make, some of the decisions I provided some leadership on, absolutely,” Gallon said.
Gallon is the vice chair of the Miami-Dade School Board.
“I think what we’ve seen was a very coordinated, very strategic, deliberate effort to insert partisan politics into our local school board issues, which has really been the final frontier for collegiality,” Gallon said.
Dr. Marta Perez says she’s never experienced anything like the vitriol she’s faced this year as a member of the Miami-Dade School Board.
“I believe that there is a difference between criticism, expressing yourself and your opinions, and the kinds of bully tactics that we are experiencing,” Perez said.
“It seems like these kinds of emails happen when we’re expressing support for LGBTQ students and employees, the mask stuff last summer and earlier in the fall,” said Broward County School Board Member Sarah Leonardi.
Leonardi says she’s been a target of relentless harassment.
“My experience has been very frustrating and troubling, the kinds of emails that I’ve been getting, and even phone calls to both my work phone and my cell phone have been extremely harassing at times. I’ve had something mailed to my house, I’ve had my home address emails to me with a message saying we know where you live, just last week I got an email saying constant surveillance on you now, everywhere you go, so those kinds of things are incredibly troubling,” Leonardi said.
Several other school board members, from both counties, spoke to me today, and acknowledged the harassment they’ve faced, but did not want to appear in our story because they are hoping the temperature on the culture war issues goes down a bit over the summer and then next school year, things can return to a more civil level of discourse.