Protesters against mask mandates clashed with doctors and supporters of the rule when fists started “flying” outside a school board meeting in southwest Florida.
The scene was captured on a local news broadcast at the headquarters of Lee County School District, about 165 miles west of Miami, after the superintendent imposed a 30-day mask mandate without consulting parents or holding a vote.
“As you can see fists are flying, all of this on live television, fists are flying. Unbelievable what we are seeing here today unfold live,” said NBC Channel 2 reporter Dave Elias.
The apparent fisticuffs broke out as the reporter was interviewing a doctor he saw “shoved” by protesters off the sidewalk and into the street.
The doctor said she was on her way to fill out a comment card when a woman “pushed her body” into her and "bumped" her out of the way.
As Mr Elias gave live commentary to the scuffle, in which liquids appeared to be thrown amid heavy pushing and shoving, the exchange was separated by law enforcement officers on the scene.
“Now we can see the sheriff’s deputies are coming out here to get between the two groups,” Mr Elias said. “A lot of confusion, a lot of anger, and a lot of deputies now are finally pouring in to see exactly what happened,” he added.
Lee is the latest county to defy Governor Ron DeSantis’ ban on universal mask mandates following similar measures in Volusia County, Brevard County, Sarasota County, and Indian River County.
Despite a Florida judge ruling on Friday that the governor lacked authority to punish schools for implementing mask mandates, the DeSantis administration this week followed through on threats to withhold monthly salaries from school board members.
The Florida Department of Education withheld monthly salaries from boards in Alachua and Broward counties, the first of about 11 counties to pass mask mandates in defiance of state orders.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the state would withhold funds from the two counties “for their continued violation of state law”.
“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children. They know what is best for their children,” the statement said.
“What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”
In Lee County, Superintendent Ken Savage enacted the mask mandate without a board vote before the special meeting on Monday that was scheduled for parents to have their say, according to the NBC2 broadcast of the meeting.
“It [the decision] has already been made and what I’m seeing here is just unbelievable, both sides are arguing over a decision that was just made by the superintendent to invoke a mandatory mask policy for 30 days,” said Mr Elias.
After describing the flying tempers and aftermath of the fight, Mr Elias said he was shocked despite 32 years of broadcasting and crossed back to studio anchor Sheldon Dutes.
“Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail,” Mr Dutes responded. “Have your say – just do not hit people.”
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