Criticism comes with the territory for anyone running for political office. It is an essential part of democracy that generally every politician accepts. Sometimes, however, criticism crosses the line and becomes harassment.
As this school year enters its final week, I have spoken to several school board members, in Miami-Dade and Broward, who have told me that they have been harassed in person, on social media, by 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 face coverings at school, and continued as the state legislature passed controversial laws that impacted education.
Dr. Steve Gallon is one such board member who says he has been bullied by the public.
“Yeah, over the past year for some of the decisions that we had to make, some of the decisions that I provided some leadership on, absolutely,” Gallon said.
Gallon is the vice chairman of the Miami-Dade School Board.
“I think what we saw was a very coordinated, very strategic, deliberate effort to insert partisan politics into our local school board issues, which really was the final frontier of collegiality,” Gallon said.
Dr. Marta Perez says she has never experienced anything like the vitriol she faced this year as a Miami-Dade school board member.
“I believe there’s a difference between criticism, expressing yourself and your opinions, and the kinds of bullying tactics that we experience,” Perez said.
“It seems these kinds of emails are happening when we express our support for LGBTQ students and employees, the masks last summer and earlier in the fall,” said County School Board Member Sarah Leonardi. of Broward.
Leonardi says she has been the target of relentless harassment.
“My experience has been very frustrating and disturbing, the types of emails I receive and even phone calls to both my work phone and my cell phone have been extremely harassing at times. I received something in the mail at my home , i got emails from my home address with a message saying we know where you live, last week i got an email saying you are constantly being watched wherever 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 faced, but did not want to appear in our story because they hope the temperature on the issues culture war will subside a bit over the summer and then next school year things can get back to a more civil level of discourse.