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Parents question whether school board candidates who block them on Facebook will listen to concerns if they’re elected

BY AMBER THIBODAUX

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Alachua County School Board candidates Tina Certain, Prescott Cowles, and Sarah Rockwell have been accused by several local parents of deleting Facebook comments and questions posted on their official campaign Facebook pages and then blocking access to those pages, which means the parents who were blocked can’t view any of the content.

Cowles allegedly blocked a comment about school buses

Local parent Amanda Moore said that at least 12 parents have told her they were blocked and/or had their comments deleted by these three candidates; she claims Cowles deleted at least two of her comments from his campaign page when she asked about his plan for solving the bus driver shortage in the county.

Moore originally asked Cowles, in the comment section of one of his posts, a question about his plan to solve the bus driver shortage and late bus routes – and she says Cowles deleted her comment and blocked her from his campaign page. Moore then commented on a post on Cowles’ personal page, asking, “So how come my question on your campagin [sic] FB page about the bus issue was deleted and I’m not [sic] blocked and can’t see the page anymore? Literally it’s parents who vote you in, why can’t you answer a question about what is your plan for the bus issue?” It appears that Cowles then subsequently deleted that comment as well. The example from Cowles’ personal page is shown below; Moore’s comment, shown in her screenshot on the left, is no longer visible on Cowles’ page.

Cowles’ public campaign website quotes him as saying, “I am running because I believe that our community deserves leaders who make the input of those that they serve a priority instead of an afterthought.” However, Moore says being blocked by Cowles shows his lack of concern for certain parents: “I want to hear Cowles’ solutions for fixing the bus issue. Being blocked for asking a simple question that as a parent I have a right to ask, just shows me that he does not care about everyone’s voice… like his platform says. He’s only concerned with voices that he agrees with.”

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Cowles also allegedly blocked a comment about a local pediatrician who wrote mask exemptions

Local parent Rebecca Camizzi similarly claims that both she and her husband were blocked by Cowles, after Camizzi posted a comment under an article that Cowles shared on his campaign page. Cowles allegedly deleted her comment from the post as well. Camizzi says she was also blocked by candidate Sarah Rockwell after sharing one of her posts on her own Facebook page. “I reshared one [of] Sarah Rockwell’s posts when she first came out and said she was running for school board and she blocked me so I can’t even ask her questions. It saddens me that these people preach equality and caring about students and parents, but it’s obvious that they only care about the people who blindly follow them,” Camizzi said. 

The image below shows the current state of the post that Camizzi replied to on Cowles’ campaign page ; no comments are visible.

Camizzi’s screenshot of the comment she posted is shown in this image. That comment is no longer visible.

Rockwell allegedly deleted a comment about discipline

Another parent, who asked not to be identified, told us her comment was deleted from Rockwell’s campaign page after she commented under a post regarding Rockwell’s plans to handle student behavior and discipline. She wrote, “What about those students who have a good foundation? What will you do to push their academics and learning in the classroom? There are many students that come to school, don’t give a bit of trouble and are ready to learn. How will you make their education better? I never see any thought being given to them. They deserve classrooms that are not constantly interrupted so they may be taught. I don’t blame the kids but home sure could take some responsibility. Thank you.” 

Rockwell responded to another comment underneath the same post, but the above comment is no longer visible. Rockwell apparently deleted the comment, which advocated for a good learning environment in the classroom, despite advocating on her campaign website for quality access to education for all children, writing, “I am passionate about seeing all children succeed, and believe that making sure all students get a safe and quality education is the most important goal of any school district.”

The top image below shows a screenshot of the comment by the parent, just above a comment from Rebekah Jones for Congress. The second image shows the current state of the post on Rockwell’s campaign page, in which the parent’s comment is missing.

Rockwell admitted in a post in a Facebook group that she does, in fact, block people from her campaign page when she doesn’t agree with them. “I wouldn’t be able to see it anyhow. I blocked that account months ago. But I’m sure they’re hot and bothered because I blocked them on my campaign page too,” Rockwell wrote. 

Certain allegedly deleted a comment about her stance on keeping schools closed

Moore says Certain has also deleted comments from her campaign’s Facebook page, including a screenshot she posted that showed an image from Certain’s personal Facebook page that said, “REFUSE TO RETURN. We will not return to campus until our counties report no new COVID-19 cases for 14+ days.”

This image shows Moore’s comments in between two other comments that are still on the page.

This image shows the current state of the page, with Moore’s comments missing.

Certain’s campaign page says, “[C]ommunity involvement needs to increase between the District, parents, and citizens,” and adds, “You do not need to be a member of an organization or a lobbying group to be heard by your School Board representative. Every citizen is a stakeholder.” Another bullet point says, “I pledge to work collaboratively with parents, students, instructional and educational support staff and community groups so that we can make our school system one that serves all students.”

Although Cowles and Rockwell aren’t yet elected public officials, Certain is, and there is a federal court order resulting from a 2019 federal appeals court case that says the interactive portion of a public official’s Facebook page is a “public forum,” so an official cannot block people from it because of the opinions they hold – doing so was found to be in violation of the First Amendment. The case arose after the chair of a local board of supervisors in Loudoun County, Virginia, briefly blocked a critic from her official Facebook page and deleted a comment he made. While public officials are entitled to do as they wish as private citizens, they are subject to the limits the First Amendment places on government whenever they’re representing constituents in an elected position. 

Regardless of the legal aspects of deleting comments and blocking people from campaign pages, Moore and other parents told us that the candidates’ statements about listening to parents are in stark contrast to how they treat parents’ comments on Facebook.

Certain, Cowles, and Rockwell did not respond to our requests for comment.

  • Well, you know…. Fascists don’t like people who disagree with them. They can’t handle not having a good contrasting argument. They need safe spaces and therapy animals when they get asked tough questions.

    • Therefore, they just resort to cancelling, blocking, and deleting those they claim to represent.

  • Have any of these people claiming their comments were deleted ever engaged the school board at an actual meeting? Or are they just keyboard warriors looking for a fight?

    • The medium in which they pose a question to a potential representative shouldn’t matter. It obviously displays a disconnect for the concerns of a certain group.

      Reminiscent of a certain group of city commissioners don’t you think?

    • I have attended many of the ACSB meetings both in person and virtually for the past two years. Yes, the people speaking up and complaining about candidates blocking/deleting and silencing them have also been there. Please, tell us how many meetings YOU have been to??

  • Cowles is completely unqualified. He barely has any experience working in the classroom as a teacher and has never been an administrator. He’s been working at the school board office doing some data analytics job he’s not qualified for, either. I think he’s part of a plan to return the blessed Dr. Simon to her ‘rightful’ position.

  • If the candidate is an incumbent ie an elected official, it is illegal for them to block and delete comments. It is a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law and Federal Law.

    Legal or not, I certainly won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t want to listen or talk to people they disagree with.

    BTW: Commissioner Harvey Ward is also blocking comments on his pages and is in violation of the law.

  • Supporting school closures should be disqualifying but of course Tina Certain will win.

  • Each of these people apparently believes they can follow or ignore the law as they choose. Even after two separate courts, including one of our highest appellate courts, ruled against the school board on the mask mandate issue, TC made a motion at the very next board meeting to continue the mandate. You know- in the name of protecting our children. Only here’s the thing- the evidence presented to the admin court in the school boards’ own briefs showed unequivocally what we had known since before the start of last school year- Covid has a milder course in school-aged children than flu. Masking children was never necessary to protect them. And SR was right there at almost every board meeting advocating for the mandate and PC also publicly advocated for the mandate. So, in spite of the readily available evidence, these people wanted to force masks on the face of children. Why? For the same reason they now block people on their FB pages- they believe they should govern you and your children, they believe they know what is best. Folks, our country is currently infected with people like this from the grassroots level to the federal level. You can stop them by voting against them. Don’t sit on your butt this year. Tell your neighbors. Hell, pick your neighbors up and take them to the voting booth, but keep these incompetent people from continuing to ruin our local government.

  • If the questions were of good taste and school board related, then I would think a candidate would answer them.
    If not, then if they are elected you can forget about any two way communications with them. In a nut shell don’t vote for them.

  • I understand the concerns, but not my issue.
    My issue is why do I pay for their education?
    No wife, no kids while I watch with popcorn.
    Property taxes all parents should be paying.

  • Everytime I hear that phrase “for the Public Good” my mind thinks of the totalitarian government in Atlas Shrugged

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