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Anti-mask protesters forced a Florida school board to postpone a meeting about back-to-school requirements

By Liam Reilly and Christina Maxouris, CNN

About 20 anti-mask protesters gathered at the Broward County School Board headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday, forcing a postponement of a discussion on mask requirements for the upcoming school year, a school board member told CNN.

“Folks weren’t wearing masks and refused to follow the rules — rules that people have followed for the last year and a half,” School Board Member Sarah Leonardi said of the protesters. “It made it very difficult to hold our meeting behind closed doors.”

Leonardi said the group set masks on fire during their demonstration and called the protest “very disturbing.”

Video of the protest from CNN affiliate WFOR showed a protester dousing a catering tray full of masks with lighter fluid before setting it on fire with a lighter.

The protester can be heard saying in the video, “It is time to cast off this symbol of tyranny, this symbol of child abuse — we will not stand for it anymore.”

The protest comes as the dangerous Delta variant has fueled another Covid-19 surge in the US. Hospitals in parts of the country are filling up again and reporting younger patients than ever, the majority of whom are unvaccinated. With children under 12 not yet eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine in the US, schools across the country are navigating what the start of the academic year will look like and whether they’ll require face masks.

In response to the surge, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended that localities encourage everyone in schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. The American Academy of Pediatrics made a similar recommendation earlier this month.

Florida is currently experiencing high community transmission of Covid-19, according to data from the CDC. The state is one of 35 with a more than 50% increase in new cases during the past week compared to the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis met privately with a panel of experts Monday, who effectively reinforced his anti-mask position in schools, warning that if the federal government and school districts push for masks in classrooms, a special session of the legislature is not out of the question.

“Parents know what’s best for their children; therefore, parents in Florida are empowered to make their own choices with regards to masking,” DeSantis’ spokesperson Christina Pushaw said Tuesday.

Barbara Rodas, who was at the Broward County protest, told WFOR she doesn’t want her 6-year-old daughter to have to wear a mask in school.

“I’m here to advocate for her and for her school friends,” she told the local station.

The mask requirement workshop has been postponed until July 28, Leonardi said, noting there will be new security.

Classes in the district will begin August 18, according to its website.

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CNN’s Giovanna Van Leeuwen, Rosa Flores, Kacey Cherry, John Couwels and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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