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Palm Beach Co. School Board members facing threats, intimidation after mask mandate

A school board meeting in Palm Beach County (SDPBC)

Palm Beach County School Board members say they are facing threats to their safety and profanity-laced intimidation nearly three months after flouting state regulations and mandating masks.

Three school board members told CBS12 News they have been personally threatened. Board members said one of their colleagues was approached at a local park and told to "sleep with the fishes."

CBS12 News has also obtained email records and a phone message left at the offices of the school board. The emails are strewn with profane language and graphic imagery. In one email, the writer tells a board member they will soon be "worm food" and "soon the wrath of Satan will be upon you."

Another email calls a board member "depraved and disgusting" and says "parasites have more value in life."

"Being a school board member is not a part time job and it doesn’t come anymore without risks," said School Board Chair Frank Barbieri in a recent interview with CBS12 News. "I talk to board members in other jurisdictions and other states and they’ve all been threatened."

Barbieri said most of the threats stem from the district's decision to mandate masks.

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In a Brevard County School Board Meeting this week, school board member Jennifer Jenkins recounted threats and harassment she experienced after her district decided to mandate masks.

Jenkins recalled people saying they were "coming for me, that I need to beg for mercy." She also described people coming to her neighborhood with guns and making false allegations against her to the state's Department of Children and Families.

"They’re also going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors. That they’re making false DCF claims against me to my daughter. That I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go under her clothes and check for burn marks," she said. "[This is] a credible threat and calculated."

Officials with the School District of Palm Beach County say school police officers will continue to provide security for meetings and investigate any potential threats. At least two school board members have also brought recent threats to the attention of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, according to information obtained by CBS12 News.

The National School Boards Association recently sent a letter to the Biden administration, asking the Department of Justice and the FBI step in to investigate the growing number of threats against educators nationwide. The Florida School Boards Association shot back in their own letter, saying threats are concerning, but also expressing concern that federal action could vilify parents who are merely expressing their First Amendment rights.

"We will continue to provide a safe environment for all stakeholders to exchange views; thereby, ensuring parents’ voices are heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education and safety," the FSBA said.

Governor DeSantis agreed, tweeting the Biden Administration is "weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation."

Barbieri and other school board members told CBS12 News they recognize that most parents in school board meetings and elsewhere are not acting aggressively. But, added they are concerned that bad apples are causing the situation to deteriorate quickly.

"Most of my colleagues, including myself, have been threatened. The governor kind of downplayed that - suggesting that we haven’t been - but I can tell you that I have been," Barbieri added.