Brooksville- Jan. 23, 2024- After the Hernando County school board declined to take up a proclamation in support of Israel in December, many community members expressed their concern. Several wrote letters to Hernando Sun. The subject was placed on the Jan. 23 agenda as an addendum and subsequently approved 3-2 after a lengthy discussion.
The matter was not included on the regular agenda. Prior to the adoption of the agenda at the regular school board meeting on Jan. 23, 2024, school board member Shannon Rodriguez made a motion to amend the agenda to add a proclamation in support of Israel as an action item.
Board member Mark Johnson read the proclamation into the record. He stated that it was the same proclamation that the BOCC approved in November.
Board member Susan Duval stated that she does not like becoming involved in resolutions that are strictly in the political realm. She said that the school district has both Jewish and Muslim students.
“What’s happening is not right, from every perspective and this board should not, in my opinion, take a step in this direction of supporting this one situation when there are so many incivilities occurring all over this world. And it’s a shame that it’s come to this. We represent everybody on this board and we must do that. Do we like what’s happening? No, we don’t. But it is not in my opinion, again, the position of this board to start making proclamations against terrorist groups. If we start with one, let’s just put them all out there.”
Mark Johnson responded by stating that there is nothing in the proclamation that says anything about any Muslim or any other population other than Hamas, a terrorist organization that went against civilians in a way that was deplorable.
Rodriguez stated that we should be combating anti-Semitism, extremism and bigotry, whenever it happens and it’s happening in Israel right now. She said, “Murdering people, raping people, everything that they are doing is just treacherous.”
Johnson said that their motto, ‘From the River to the Sea,’ refers to genocide, not taking over a country. “They are talking about eradicating an entire civilization and religion.”
Rodriguez further stated, “Issues of this nature have been dismissed in the past, specifically in the 1930s and the 1940s and that failure to recognize these problems early on did not end well for the world. That’s what’s happening here. It’s time for us to take a stand.”
Chairwoman Prescott stated that she did vote against the proclamation, not because she didn’t support it or agree with it. She explained that when she attended the Florida School Board Association, a school board member from a district in South Florida, she said that their board made this proclamation and it caused protests and the outcome was that the Jewish students were afraid to come to class. “This is going on in our own backyard in our own country and it’s a terrible, horrible thing.” She stated that she aided Hernando County to be the first to adopt a Holocaust curriculum two years ago and it has been so successful that it has been adopted by the entire state of Florida. It includes video of what was happening during the Holocaust and interviews with survivors.
Prescott said that she definitely agreed with Ms. Duval. “If we do a proclamation, it should be more inclusive than just one group.”
Rodriguez stated, “The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League says it well: ‘This isn’t hard. Words matter. While the war in Gaza escalates, we encourage all those in positions of power to use their platforms to condemn hate and terrorism wherever it occurs.’”
“Let’s support what’s right. Let’s not let these people be raped and killed and us just turn a blind eye and say, ‘Well, it’s not happening to us.’ Because ‘us’ is in the near future and it’s very very close.”
Board Member Guadagnino asked if Johnson would consider making it a general statement rather than focusing on one country.
Johnson said, “Sure,” and provided another Hamas chant: ‘It’s Saturday now, it will be Sunday next.’ “By Sunday next, they mean going after the Christians. If we sit back and do nothing, they will take over,” said Johnson.
Guadagnino said that it’s happening in different parts of the world, so why not include them?
Johnson proposed that if they pass this proclamation for Israel, he would write another one that would cover any terrorist act in the world and he’ll bring that up at the next meeting.
“I will do that, hands down. I don’t believe in terrorism. I don’t believe in bullies in school.”
The motion to add the proclamation in support of Israel to the agenda as an action item was passed 3-2, with Prescott and Duval voting against it.
During citizens’ comments on agenda items, Pastor Jack Martin handed out images he said were from Hamas GoPro cameras, which they posted online to brag about the atrocities they had committed.
“You’ll see two babies clung together, burnt to death. You’ll see another adult there who was burnt to death. I served 17 years as chaplain to Spring Hill Fire, I know what burnt bodies look like. In some cases, there were women that were raped. There were witnesses at that concert who hid in the bushes and saw women who were shot and killed and yet men continued to rape them on the scenes… they then destroyed their genitalia, cut off breasts. These are the kind of things that Hamas did that day. You would not suggest denying the slaughter of native Americans by the Europeans that came here. You would not suggest denying the horrors of the things that happened to black Americans when they were brought here as slaves. And yet, somehow, you’re willing to act as though it’s a political issue. It’s a moral issue and it’s an issue that speaks to the conscience of every one of us. That would be like saying on Sept. 11th, the whole world should have just said, oh, that’s an American issue, we don’t get involved there.”
Martin referenced a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor during the war. “‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.’ God will not hold you guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” He said Israel offered a 60-day ceasefire, but it was turned down by Hamas because they want to continue the farce that’s going on. You can’t group other battles and other wars. This is an individual situation.”
Ultimately, the board voted to approve the proclamation in support of Israel 3-2, with Prescott and Duval voting against it. Johnson will prepare a general proclamation against terrorism to be considered at the next meeting.
HERNANDO COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
HERNANDO COUNTY, FLORIDA
Proclamation No. P24-004
WHEREAS, Hernando County School District supports Israel’s right to exist and flourish as a nation that has become a “melting pot” of people groups in the Middle East, including those of Jewish descent and those practicing the Jewish faith; and
WHEREAS, Hernando County School District condemns the October 7, 2023, terrorist attacks by Hamas militants who not only launched unprovoked missile attacks at civilian populations, but also breached border security with l000’s of soldiers on the ground, by boat and via air by paragliders. These Hamas militants indiscriminately gunned down peaceful civilians, broke into homes killing unarmed civilians, kidnapping women and children, ultimately smuggling them out of the borders of Israel and
WHEREAS, Hernando County School District condemns the heinous crimes of terror, including but not limited to rape, torture, beheading, and burning alive, that was committed against these civilians who were abducted against their will, including infants and
WHEREAS, Hernando County School District also condemns Hamas for restricting the exodus of civilian populations from the Gaza Strip therein using them as human shields during military actions, and
WHEREAS, Hernando County School District further supports Israel’s ability to defend its sovereignty, its citizens, and its resources against any invading/attacking force while also using all efforts necessary to extract those who were kidnapped and smuggled outside of the borders of Israel.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HERNANDO
COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD AS FOLLOWS:
SECTION 1. The Hernando County School Board hereby proclaims unwavering support for Israel and our Israeli citizens in Hernando County as the horrific realities of terrorism and war affect them and their families each day this conflict continues.
SECTION 2. School board Members of Hernando County state that Hernando County School District joins cities, counties, and states across the nation in declaring there is no place for terroristic violence and condemns the acts of Hamas, which resulted in deaths, injuries, and displacement of thousands as of January 23, 2024.
ADOPTED in Regular Session this 23rd day of January 2024, A.D.