Press Release from The Attorney for Sofia
Sofia Bezerra Masked in Brevard Public Schools without Parents' Consent
Indian Harbour Beach, Florida
November 29, 2021
On Thursday, October 7th, Shirley Bezerra greeted her daughter Sofia as she stepped off of the school bus from Ocean Breeze Elementary. Sofia had a mask tied to her face with a blue cord or shoelace. Shirley immediately called her husband and Sofia’s step-father Jeffrey Steel to let him know that Sofia had arrived home with a mask tied to her face. Both were understandably upset. Sofia’s mask was soaked through with saliva and it was not clear to Shirley how long her daughter had been masked without her consent.
Sofia has Down’s Syndrome who is non-verbal due in part to an enlarged tongue. Because of her condition, the Brevard school had implemented an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). Under both the Brevard County School Board’s mask policy and Florida law, Sofia was not to be masked, except at her parents’ sole discretion.
Last week, the Indian Harbor Beach Police Department released a report revealing that during interviews school officials and Sofia’s teachers admitted that they did not only mask Sofia on October 7th, but had been tying a mask tightly to Sofia’s face for six weeks to guarantee that she could not remove it. Videos confirmed that Sofia was masked and that the school’s masking of Sofia was concealed from her parents for weeks. The principal at Sofia’s school confirmed that the school’s policy was to speak with the parents before ever tying a mask to a child’s face, and that did not happen.
For unknown reasons, certain press outlets have focused on the timing of the photos that Jeff and Shirley took of their daughter Sofia to demonstrate to officials the manner in which the mask was tied to her face. The Indian Harbour Police report confirms that the photos taken by Shirley show how Ocean Breeze teachers tied the mask to Sofia’s face. This early reporting also ignores the admission by school officials that Sofia WAS masked without her parents’ knowledge for six weeks.
Brevard school officials continued to mask children even after the Florida Department of Health issued an Emergency Rule requiring that masking of any child in school be done only at the parents’ sole discretion. The Brevard County School Board did not challenge the state’s no-masking without parental consent rule, which was upheld by an administrative law judge earlier this month.
One outlet in particular, Florida Today, reported that the IHB PD had determined that there was insufficient evidence that any crimes were committed against Sofia.
Jeff and Shirley have consistently maintained that it was not their goal to have someone jailed.
Attorneys for the family have pointed out that from the instant a teacher touched Sofia, a mentally and physically challenged child, to tie a mask to her face without state authority or parental consent, they were guilty of child abuse under Chapter 827, Florida Statutes.
The IHB police report has been forwarded to the State Attorney’s office for final review.
Sofia’s parents, however, are determined that the responsible Brevard Public Schools officials and school board members be held accountable for their lawless masking of Sofia.
Nick Whitney, Esq.
*UPDATE 3 Today we filed our Federal Court lawsuit against the Brevard Public School, Superintendent, Three School Board members, the Teacher and Instructionsl Aide, for denying parental rights and rights of Sofia by forcibly tying a mask to her face without our consent. This is the beginning our legal hour and it's been tough to say the least. However, for Sofia's rights and all disabled children we will not back down! Your support is so appreciated. We pray this suit sets a serious precedent and legislation gets put in place to make sure no child in Florida and beyond will ever face this again or the parents of Special needs children. Thank you and God bless you all!
*UPDATE 2* Once again we are overwhelmed with the love and support. For Sofia's well being and forthcoming case, we may need to use a very small amount to help cover these needs. Every use is documented and used explicitly for Sofia. Our legal complaints will very soon be filed by our attorney.
*UPDATE* We are completely overwhelmed by the love and support that has been showed us. Thank you! We are raising Sofia's legal fund goal to $200,000 to meet the legal challenges before us. As you all know, the government has access to our tax dollars to litigate against us. We have yet to hear anything from the Brevard County School Board. However, we will not give up this legal action for Sofia. Thank you so much for your ongoing support and prayers.
On October 7th, our daughter Sofia stepped off of the school bus with a mask tied to her face with a nylon rope. Sofia has Downs Syndrome, and at seven years old, is nonverbal. Due to her condition, her tongue is enlarged. With the mask tied to her face, she was unable to breathe properly and unable to express her distress. My wife recognized Sofia’s panic, her face covered causing her breathing to be restricted, blocking her ability to say "memai," then comforted Sofia after removing her mask and taking pictures of the rope tied around Sofia’s head to secure a mask to her face. The mask was totally wet from her saliva.
The school put Sofia’s health and possible life at risk. For what? Her teachers and the school principal know about Sofia’s condition, and we sent her to school assured that she would not be masked due to the danger it could pose to her. After focusing first on Sofia, and taking some time to control our rage and anger at the school and the teachers for having taken such cruel action, we confronted the school principal and the teacher the following week. At that meeting, they admitted to having tied the mask to Sofia’s face using the nylon cord and admitted that this has been happening without our knowledge since the mask policy was put in place. The school could not explain what drove them to such madness. Unbelievably, their concern at that meeting seemed to be to keep things quiet.
We have decided that Sofia’s story must be told. Across the state of Florida, and throughout the entire country, schools have and continue to act inhumanely by masking children that have medical conditions or other deficits that make the forced masking unsafe and ill-advised. If these schools cared about the children trusted to their care, they would act decently and recognize that concerns over Covid-19 cannot make them blind to the real and immediate needs of our children.
Florida’s Parents’ Bill of Rights is supposed to protect us from seeing Sofia treated like a second-class citizen, her health concerns and fears disregarded by the school, but Sofia’s school disregarded her rights and our rights as our parents to make appropriate health care decisions for Sofia. First among those, as any parent can understand, is to ensure Sofia can breathe and is dealt with as the beautiful seven year old girl that she is. Since the Parents’ Bill of Rights means nothing to Sofia’s school, we have been in contact with Governor Ron DeSantis' office, the Florida Board of Education, and Florida Senator Debbie Mayfield. We hope that the Governor and the Florida Board of Education will take appropriate action to ensure nothing like what happened to Sofia ever occurs again to another child in Florida.
Even more shocking, the school violated the Brevard County School Board’s so-called “Emergency K-12 Face Covering Requirement” by masking Sofia. The policy says that face coverings shall not be required for children with IEP or 504 plans documenting medical, physical or psychological contraindications. By the plain language of the policy, we trusted that the school would not mask Sofia. The School District placed Sofia at Ocean Breeze Elementary because of their resources for children like Sofia with special needs. We thought when we put her on the bus each morning that they were looking after her, not abusing her. How wrong we were.
We have decided not to sit by and wait to see what comes of the government’s investigation. We believe that parents like us must stand up for our rights and stand up for our children when those that we have trusted to care for and educate our children overstep and act so cruelly and inhumanely. To that end, we are raising funds so that we can take legal action against the school directly. We humbly ask for your support as we seek justice. We have retained Greg Anderson and Nick Whitney of AndersonGlenn LLP to represent us. All proceeds raised from this fundraising campaign will help offset the legal costs necessary in taking on the school and our local government. To the extent funds raised exceed our legal costs, we will make a donation to a charity or non-profit advocating for special needs children.
October is Downs Syndrome Awareness Month and we humbly ask for your help in supporting our case to end the tyranny of the Brevard County School Board. This madness must stop and the school must be held accountable for its abusive actions. On behalf of Sofia and all special needs children, especially those with Downs Syndrome, we are grateful for your support and prayers.