Florida parents furious after school tied mask to nonverbal daughter

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM NEWS


The parents of a nonverbal seven-year-old are furious after learning her elementary school had been tying a mask around her head for six weeks.

Sofia Steel, a child with an Individual Education Plan, attended Ocean Breeze Elementary School. Steel has Down syndrome, an enlarged tongue, and only breathes through her nose. All of this makes mask-wearing dangerous for the child who, with a mask on her face, is unable to communicate distress.

On Oct. 7, Sofia got off the school bus with a mask that her father, Jeffrey Steel, described as “wet from her saliva” and “tied to her head with a thin, nylon string.” She left that morning, like all other mornings since the school session began in August, without a mask.

The Brevard School system implemented a mandatory mask policy in September, although Governor Ron DeSantis outlawed school systems from enforcing masks through an executive order. This order was blocked by a Florida judge in late August, but DeSantis won his appeal on Sept. 10.

By Florida law and the school board’s own rules, Sofia should never have been forced to wear a mask without her parent’s knowledge or consent. When Jeffrey met with school officials on Oct. 12, he alleges that teachers admitted to keeping a mask on Sofia by tying it or holding it with hair clips. Since Sofia never returned home with a mask before Oct. 7, her parents speculate that teachers also untied it before this point.

Jeffrey also claims that his daughter’s IEP was never updated with news about the mask, even though Fox News reported that teachers said they had reached out to the parents about the child’s behavior issues at school.

The school system’s Chief Strategic Communications Officer, Russel Bruhn, stated to Fox, “The student was given a medical mask exemption as soon as the mother made the request to school leadership. The school district is investigating and is in the process of gathering all the facts. BPS strives to ensure each student has the best educational experience possible and will continue in that effort.”

Florida State Representative Randy Fine tweeted on Wednesday, “There is a special place in hell for the three @BrevardSchools Board Members who did this to seven year-old Sofia Steel.” 

In the accompanying video statement, Fine alleged that teachers told Jeffrey they were told by the school board to make all children wear a mask. Fine plans to introduce legislation in Sofia’s honor that would penalize schools that do similar things to disabled children in the future.

Brevard Public Schools changed their mask policy from mandatory to parental opt-out on Friday. According to a Facebook post announcement, this change was implemented “the state’s weekly COVID-19 report lists Brevard County at 50.1 cases per 100,000 people.”

The Steel families pulled their daughter from the school system and have hired a lawyer. A GiveSendGo crowdfunding campaign for the family has already reached $36,000 of their $50,000 goal.