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Florida school board member who supports masks says people told her to 'beg for mercy'

"I don't reject people coming here and speaking their voice," Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins said during a meeting. "... I reject them following my car around."
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A Brevard County School Board member who supports masks in Florida schools said Tuesday that she and her family have been the victims of multiple attacks, including a false call to child protective services alleging that she was abusing her daughter.

Jennifer Jenkins said she has been reluctant to speak about the weeks of threats and harassment.

But on Tuesday, as the board considered a state-sponsored resolution to make meetings safer, Jennifer Jenkins said she felt her hand was forced.

"I've tried not to talk about this stuff publicly," she said in a clip of her remarks posted online.

Syndication: Florida Today
School Board member Jennifer Jenkins addresses the crowd during the Space Coast Women's March on Oct. 2, 2021.Craig Bailey / Florida Today via USA Today Network

"I don't reject people coming here and speaking their voice," Jenkins said. "... I reject them following my car around. I reject them saying that they're coming for me, that I need to beg for mercy."

"I reject that when they are using their First Amendment rights on public property, they're also going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors."

Jenkins told NBC News that, acting on advice from the district, she has begun reporting the abuse to the Satellite Beach Police Department and Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

Police reports detailed the attacks aimed at Jenkins.

In one instance, days after the school board approved a 30-day mask mandate, a group of protestors surrounded Jenkins' house on Sept. 1, shouting demeaning words to her and her neighbors, according to a police report. Jenkins said she knew most of the people from past protests at her house and outside the school board meeting room.

Local news outlets have covered protests that have been directed at Jenkins over her support of the LGBTQ community and masks in schools.

The group stayed until dark, at which point Jenkins went outside, as she wanted them to leave before putting her 5-year-old daughter to bed, the report said. One woman came within a foot of Jenkins and coughed multiple times in her face, while a male protestor repeated: "Give her the Covid.”

Police shared video of the woman coughing in Jenkins' face with NBC News. Jenkins told police she could feel the woman's breath on her palm, which she put up in defense, and planned to get a Covid test after the incident.

The day after the protest, police and a Florida Department of Children and Families investigator arrived at the Jenkins home. They had received a report that Jenkins was burning and slapping her daughter and was involved in drug activity.

The young girl was subjected to an exam at a friend's house, and "had no marks on her body consistent with being abused," the police report said. She told police "that her mother does not hit her, beat her or drag her around the house."

"The allegations are unfounded. The Jenkins household has been dealing with various forms of harassment over the last few days," the report concluded.

Police also reported that an unknown suspect or suspects killed grass on the Jenkins' lawn, to spell out "F U," and cut down their Plumeria tree.

Across the country, school leaders, government officials and parents have clashed over masks. Angry protests erupted in Franklin, Tennessee, in August after a school district reinstated a mask mandate for elementary school students, with some people yelling at and heckling those wearing face coverings in the parking lot at a meeting about the measure.

In Florida, state education officials recently approved plans to dock salaries and withhold funding from eight local school districts, including Brevard, that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in classrooms. The ruling followed legal and public debate over the policy and an escalating feud between the DeSantis administration and the White House, which has pledged to cover such sanctions with federal dollars.

Jenkins said she did not want to talk about the "credible threats of violence" against her and her family. She said she only brought them up because she and her colleagues were voting on a resolution intended to dismiss a call from the National School Boards Association to keep school board members safe.

"It became something on our agenda that I couldn't express to you why I was against it any longer," she said.

The association last month requested "federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation."

"Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech," it said in a letter. "However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs."

In response to the letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to work with local officials to address the "disturbing spike" in “harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” to school board members.

The Florida School Boards Association wasn't happy about this request from the Biden administration, and is now refusing to pay its membership dues.

The resolution voted Tuesday in Brevard stated that instead, "the Board of directors of the Florida School Boards Association calls upon all school districts to collaborate with their respective local law enforcement agencies to continue to provide a safe environment for all stakeholders to exchange views."

The resolution passed, but not before Jenkins decried its apparent purpose.

"I agree with pretty much everything that’s in here, it’s just the reason that this was put out is what I'm uncomfortable with because it was drafted in response to a letter that was intended to keep me and my family safe and potentially you and your family safe," she said to the other school board members, referencing the letter from the association.

"If we were going to support each other and we were going to make a change in our community ... then we should come up with something ourselves that meets the situation that we face here in Brevard, but doesn't interject us between two organizations fighting each other," she said.

Video of Jenkins' comments about her alleged experiences over the last six months was shared on Twitter, with some offering their support for the school board member.

Jenkins retweeted the clip.

"It has been challenging for my family and I appreciate this overwhelming support," she said in the post.