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One person was arrested at heated Miami-Dade school board meeting

Sydney Walsh / Miami Herald
A woman is escorted away by police officers after causing a disruption at the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on Wednesday July 20, 2022 during a discussion of sexual health education textbooks. She was not arrested, according to the district, but a man named Caleb Freestone was.

A left-leaning activist spent the night in jail after being arrested at Wednesday’s heated meeting of the Miami-Dade County School Board — during which the board rejected two sex education textbooks, under pressure from right-wing groups. Supporters of Caleb Freestone say he sat quietly during the meeting while conservative activists caused an uproar that brought the proceedings to a halt — but it’s Freestone who’s now facing charges.

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County court records show Freestone was charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing after a warning and resisting arrest without violence, after he was physically escorted out of the school board administration building on Wednesday. According to the district, he was the only one arrested at the meeting.

Two women who began yelling at board members during their deliberations and brought the meeting to a standstill were given verbal warnings but not arrested, according to the district. The disruption prompted the board to take a recess.

Freestone alleges law enforcement's handling of the situation was politically motivated.

“I’m angry,” Freestone told WLRN after he was released from jail on Thursday.

Freestone says he believes he was arrested because a conservative woman who spoke against the textbooks at Wednesday’s meeting alleged he is affiliated with “antifa,” considered a left-leaning political movement.

In a video taken by a bystander, a woman who identified herself as Lourdes Galban can be seen pointing in the direction of Freestone and calling out.

“You have antifa here! That’s antifa right there!” Galban said in the video. “Antifa is here and they're harassing parents.”

Officers then began asking Freestone to step outside. He declined, asking what the justification was. Officers then pulled Freestone out of his seat and escorted him out of the building.

“This is not the first time that I've seen the school board, the security and the police department behave this way,” Freestone told WLRN. “People who are accused of being the boogeyman antifa are met with a significant police response.”

A district spokesperson said that Freestone’s arrest was “based solely on his own actions, and nothing related to public comments”.

“The two females complied with the officers’ commands, were given verbal warnings and were escorted from the auditorium without incident,” district spokesperson Jaquelyn Calzadilla Diaz said.

Freestone, who said he’s involved with the groups Whatever It Takes and Extinction Rebellion, had also been given a trespassing warning by district police in January 2022. An attorney for Freestone has challenged the constitutionality of that warning.

More than 40 people testified during Wednesday’s public comment period on whether the board should toss out two sex ed textbooks for grades 6-12.

The overwhelming majority of public speakers supported keeping the teaching materials, which the board voted to adopt in April.

The books were up for a vote again after right-wing groups and parents alleged the instruction, which included references to contraception and abortion, was not “age-appropriate”.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter