Letter: UF Health doctors conspired with the school district, violating Sunshine Laws, to violate state policies on masks and quarantine for students

Dear Editor,

It is time for UF Health and Shands employees to end their reign over our public school district. A number of high-profile UF doctors conspired with Alachua County Public Schools employees to form a medical advisory committee without proper public notice or transparency and later encouraged board members to break the law that prohibited forced masking in schools. These doctors continue to give the appearance of their influence by financially donating to District 5 candidate Prescott Cowles, the same person who coordinated the secret committee meetings. 

According to public record requests, on July 8, 2020, School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) Board Member Tina Certain emailed Dr. Yana Banks at UF and stated, “Your name was on the list of committee members formed to develop a plan to reopen Alachua County schools. Please let me know your involvement with creating the Alachua County reopening plan.” 

Then on July 19, 2020, Dr. Kathleen Ryan emailed several UF doctors, including Dr. Michael Lauzardo and Dr. Glenn Morris at the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, to form a “more formal group of individuals that are designated to be advisors. This would give the schools and health department some back-up for their decisions.”

Prescott organized the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC) meetings over Zoom at the request of the Superintendent. These meetings were held in secret, without proper notification to the public and with no parental input, violating Florida Sunshine laws.

Those on the committee included Dr. Michael Lauzardo, Dr. Kathleen Ryan, and Dr. Adrienne Mott-Young. 

The Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) administrators continued to hold these private meetings in the 2020-2021 academic year. Parents were not given proper notice of the meetings, an agenda, or meeting minutes. Parents could not ask questions of these “advisors” on the committee. School district representatives stated that the committee was an advisory group, but then always referred to SMAC guidance as the reason they made any decision. Multiple parents reached out the individual doctors to gather information and were ignored. The district refused to release meeting information or have the doctors available to answer parent questions. In fact, according to public record requests, Dr. Ryan emailed Public Information Officer Jackie Johnson in April 2021 to ask her to “make it clear the committee does not want to hear from parents.” 

Florida law states that advisory boards and committees created by public agencies may be subject to the Sunshine Law, even though their recommendations are not binding upon the entities that create them. The “dispositive question” is whether the committee has been delegated “decision-making authority,” as opposed to mere “information-gathering or fact-finding authority” [Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government v. City of Sarasota, 48 So. 3d 755, 762 (Fla. 2010)]. “Where the committee has been delegated decision-making authority, the committee’s meetings must be open to public scrutiny, regardless of the review procedures eventually used by the traditional governmental body.” [Id.]

By 2021, it became obvious that ACPS was relying on UF Health and SMAC as a recommendation body, violating Sunshine laws. It was on their own website. They had a section on the ACPS website called “SMAC Guidance and Recommendations.” Multiple public record requests find committee members stating in writing that SMAC members are providing “recommendations and guidance” to the school board. On May 21, 2021, Dr. Lauzardo stated at a school board meeting: “And for that reason, we’re recommending that mask use in the current policy stay in place for the remainder of the school year.” 

The evidence of SMAC violating Sunshine laws and operating against any public notice of meetings or input by parents is voluminous. On July 20, 2021, Cowles sent an email to SMAC members: 

Good afternoon,
The district is reviewing and revising our COVID prevention strategies for school in the fall. We’d like to meet to review these strategies and confirm that our efforts are 1) coordinated with each other and 2) aligned with the most current guidance from the medical/public health experts. In order to get our families informed and staff trained in time, we are pushing to have this meeting as soon as possible. [emphasis added]

On July 26, 2021, Dr. Mott-Young wrote to Cowles:

Hello Prescott,
Were you still wanting to meet to review some of the proposed protocols for the school year?
Adrienne Mott-Young

On July 30, Dr. Mott-Young insisted that UF Health be given the chance to speak at the next school board meeting, taking no questions from parents. 

Good afternoon Dr. Simon,
I just wanted to touch base with you regarding the school board meeting on Tuesday and to confirm that we would have a place on the agenda to speak, as discussed at our recent meeting. I would like to speak. In addition, Dr. Desmond Schatz, Interim Chair, UF College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology, and Dr. Amit Rawal, Emergency Medicine Physician at North Florida Regional Medical Center and Associate Medical Director of Alachua County Fire Rescue, would like to take the places of both Dr. Kathleen Ryan and Paul Myers respectively and be given the opportunity to speak as well. We each would plan on speaking very briefly, perhaps 3-5 minutes apiece, and very much appreciate being given the opportunity to do so.
Thank you so much,
Dr. Mott-Young

On July 30, 2021, Dr. Desmond Schatz made it clear to the Superintendent that he would assist the cause of violating Governor DeSantis’ executive order by forcing masks on children by writing an op-ed in the Gainesville Sun. Notice he says the word “we” twice, implying that UF is a decision-maker in a matter of school board policies. 

Date : 7/30/2021 2:25:39 PM
From : “Schatz,Desmond A”
To : “Carlee Simon” , “Mott-Young,Adrienne H”
Cc : “Ryan, Kathleen Ann” , “Amit Rawal” , “Jackie Johnson”
Subject : Board meeting
Hi Dr Simon
Thank you. I believe that regardless of the Governor’s Executive order we should do what is right! Whether that’s a formal vote or agreement with universal masking we have an obligation to keep our children and community safe. The landscape has changed dramatically in the past 10-14 days with transmission of the Delta virus.
An Op-Ed will be in the Gainesville Sun soon
Desmond Schatz MD
Professor and Interim Chair of Pediatrics

[emphasis added]

On August 3, now-District 5 candidate Prescott Cowles sent an email to SMAC members, congratulating them for helping to develop the plan to force masks on children, violating the Executive Order:

Date : 8/3/2021 11:59:38 PM
From : “Prescott Cowles”
To : “boardmembers”
Cc : “Adrienne Mott-Young” , “Desmont Schatz” , “Amit Rawal” , “McGuire, Ryan S” , “Ryan, Kathleen Ann” , “Myers, Paul D”
Subject : Finalized Fall 2021 COVID-19 Response Plan
Board Members,
Attached to this email is a copy of the Fall 2021 COVID-19 Response Plan that the Board approved at tonight’s meeting, including the mask requirement for students for the first two weeks of schools. The document includes language from Board Policy 8450.01 about exceptions and accommodations for those who need them.
The document will be available on the District’s website and shared with staff and families.
I also want to extend another thank you to each of our medical and public health experts who helped developed the plan, presented at the Board meeting, and continue to help the District support our students, staff and families.
Prescott Cowles
COVID Response Team
Office of the Superintendent
[Emphasis added]

On August 12, Dr. Ryan wanted to make sure the school was going to follow UF Health recommendations for quarantine and school closures, a power UF Health doesn’t have. 

Date : 8/10/2021 3:45:45 PM
From : “Ryan, Kathleen Ann”
To : “Carlee Simon” , “Prescott Cowles”
Cc : “Mott-Young,Adrienne H”
Subject : Protocols for Classroom/School closure
Well it’s the first day back to school! Hopefully all is going smoothly. Wanted to check with you to see if you are planning to use the same protocols that we put together last year in the event you have to consider classroom/school/county closure.
I sure hope it doesn’t come to any of that but better to be prepared.
[Emphasis added]

By now, UF Health/Shands influence was obvious to the community and the governor’s office. UF Health doctors, unelected and unaccountable to parents, were trying to take over a district in which they did not have authority to rule. UF Health then used the school district as an avenue to send out its own surveys for vaccines and pursue their own grant-funded research. They used the community as a punching bag for their own narrative. 

Due to parent complaints and now defying state policy on masks, ACPS finally publicly noticed SMAC meetings in August 2021. No questions were allowed to be asked or input received, except for the teachers’ union President Carmen Ward, who was freely allowed to speak. 

SMAC continued to give ACPS cover to violate state policy and eventually state law, requiring the forced masking of children. In order to break the spell of UF Health, particularly Dr. Ryan, Dr. Schatz, Dr. Lauzardo, and Dr. Mott-Young, parents were forced to spend their own money to hire a lawyer to compel the district to follow the law. 

Parents finally broke free in November 2021 when ACPS was ordered by a judge to follow state law. 

Trust has been lost in the advice and recommendations from UF Health/Shands in Alachua County. Many parents no longer see the medical community in the same light. Instead of trusted advisors, parents view UF Health with suspicion. They forced unnecessary masks on children and recommended that healthy children miss school. Some children were quarantined multiple times, missing as many as 40 days of in-person learning, while never testing positive for COVID-19. They wasted countless hours and resources on dividing the community. 

The community will not allow this to happen again. 

Stefanie Stanton, Gainesville

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • When will a investigation began this is clearly a violation of state laws

  • Yes, this is absolutely a violation of parental rights, their trust, and each student’s right to a free and fair education. Cowles and Certain especially, are particularly appalling with the way they have treated the residents of Alachua County. It astounds me that they continue to pursue seats on the school board. Why an ethics violation was not filed months ago is beyond my comprehension.

  • Ohhh the horror! Give me a ** break. Listening to experts rather was a conspiracy?

    • The core issue here is the clear violation of state law. These types of decisions are meant to take place in public so that parents and concerned community members can be involved in the decision-making process. The proper course of action should have been the board formally inviting the doctors to an open meeting so that they could be heard and sub subsequently questioned by the full board, other doctors who may have other opinions, parents, and concerned community partners. In regards to your comment a conspiracy, I would need you to explain how transparency and open communication, on an issue of this magnitude, constitutes a conspiracy. It seems to be that by you advocating and defending the lack of transparency, the breaking of state laws, and decisions being made in secret, much more lends itself to a belief that the chosen course of action was the true conspiracy.

  • Prescott Cowles is the SBAC’s version of Hunter Biden. He was planted into a position in the district because of who he knew; not what he knew.
    He lacked the knowledge, skills or experience but crossed all the “required” social media “t’s” and dotted all the “i’s” as needed to meet past leadership’s requirements.

    He’s running for office, be especially wary of that one.

  • UF Health is run by commies. Suppressing freedoms and mutual cliques are part of the 3% ruling party’s MO.

  • This is excellent. Nothing will come of it, of course. But the damage has been done.

    • Hopefully the Governor will step in and order a investigation into this

  • Fantastic job in letting the community know of this sham. These Shands Doctors stepped way over the legal and moral line and must be held accountable.There must be consequences for their total disregard for the basic laws in this State. That includes those responsible at the School Board especially Prescott!

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