A father in Florida has admitted that he lied school staff tied a mask around the ehad of his seven year-old stepdaughter who has Down syndrome for six weeks.
Jeffrey Steele, the stepfather of 7-year-old Sophia, also admitted he even faked photos of a mask tied to his daughter’s face ‘in an attempt to recreate’ what had happened.
The revelation, which was first reported by Florida Today on Monday, comes after Steele made a sworn statement to a police detective where he admitted he staged the photos and lied about the incident.
He was caught out after cops examined metadata on photos of Sophia wearing the mask Steele said had been tied around her head by school workers.
That snap had been taken three days later than Steele had claimed, with the stepdad claiming he’d only wanted to recreate what Sophia had endured.
Despite the ruse, he won’t face charges after investigators decided no rule had been broken.
Stepfather Jeffrey Steele, pictured, admitted he faked photos of a mask tied to his stepdaughter’s face in a sworn statement to a police detective
The story initially hit headlines October 7, when Steele said his stepdaughter Sophia stepped off the school bus in Indian Harbor with a medical mask tied tightly to her face with a nylon cord that wrapped around her head.
In reality, the mask tie was actually a little blue bow the school had fashioned with a shoelace, which connected the mask’s ear hooks around her ponytail, an idea that came from the Down Syndrome Resource Association as a way to keep masks on and comfortable at the same time.
The Orlando Sentinel cited a 39-page report on Steele conducted by the Indian Harbour Beach Police Department, after parents at the school initially contacted officials in outrage, demanding an investigation after the news first broke and before Steele’s admission of lying.
Steele had even threatened to take his daughter out of the school before the revelations of his lying came to light.
Steele’s story initially hit the headlines out of Florida on October 7, after he said his daughter Sophia, pictured, stepped off the school bus with a medical mask tied tightly to her face
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who is opposed to school mask mandates – even got in on the act, and invited Steele to speak about his supposed ordeal.
He shared a clip of Steele’s diatribe on his Twitter account, with the video garnering tens of thousands of retweets and likes.
The lawmaker has yet to comment on the revelation that Steele wasn’t telling the truth.
Authorities combed through surveillance video and ultimately concluded that Sophia was never in any danger and actually appeared to be happy and healthy in the mask.
In fact, the Sentinel reported that the girl had got upset and threw a tantrum when her parents told her to take it off.
A motive for Steele’s acts of deception has yet to be publicly released.
Steele had assumed that Sophia, who is nonverbal and has an enlarged tongue, would have been granted a medical exemption, but learned the school had been forcing her to wear the mask for six weeks without his knowledge.
‘I was just flabbergasted,’ Steele told Fox News at the time.
Sophia Steele, seven, pictured, was allegedly forced by teachers to wear a mask that was tied to her head, however her stepfather Jeffrey Steele now admits he lied and took fake photos
Steele, pictured, said he even faked photos of a mask tied to his stepdaughter’s face, who has Down syndrome and is nonverbal, ‘in an attempt to recreate’ what had happened
Staff at Ocean Breeze Elementary School, part of Brevard County Schools, had imposed a mask mandate on students in defiance of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial order banning mask requirements.
Steele has said he was aware of the school’s mask mandate, but had said that he assumed Sophia was automatically medically exempt at the time the story first broke.
The girl is enrolled in an individual education plan (IEP) and educators are supposed to inform parents of any changes to the child’s learning plan, Steele said.
In a statement, Brevard County Schools said: ‘The student was given a medical mask exemption as soon as the mother made the request to school leadership.’
‘The school district is investigating and is in the process of gathering all the facts. BPS strives to ensure each student has the best educational experience possible and will continue in that effort,’ the statement added.
The bizarre case had drawn attention and strong reactions from elected officials, with State Representative Randy Fine tearing into Brevard County’s mask mandate at a press conference shortly after news of the story initially broke in October.
Sophia, pictured, is enrolled in an individual education plan (IEP) and educators are supposed to inform parents of any changes to the child’s learning plan, Steele said
‘There’s a special place in hell for people who did this to that man’s daughter,’ Fine, a Republican from Palm Bay, bombastically said at the time, according to WOFL.
Fine has not commented on the matter since news of Steele’s acts of deception emerged on Monday.
Later in October, Brevard Public Schools announced a change to the emergency face mask mandate.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Mullins said he would transition the mask mandate from having a medical exemption to having a parental opt-out, after the daily new COVID case rate dropped to 50 per 1000,000.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has continued to wage a legal battle with local school districts in Florida over mask mandates. He has outlawed the mandates, but many districts have defied them and tied up his order in court.
DeSantis and state education officials responded by cutting salaries paid to school board members in Florida who voted to require masks for students.
‘There’s a special place in hell for people who did this to that man’s daughter,’ said state Rep. Fine, a Republican from Palm Bay, at the time the story initially broke
About a dozen school boards in Florida, representing more than half the state’s students, have voted to defy the state ban on mask mandates despite the DeSantis decision to withhold some of their funding.
DeSantis favors allowing parents to decide whether their children wear face coverings and is in the midst of court battles over this broader issue.
In Alachua County, the pay reductions so far for four school board members who voted for the mask mandate amounted to $27,000.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been stepping in to make up the pay cuts by infusing federal grants into the affected districts.
Alachua County school Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a news release last month the district has received $148,000 through a US Department of Education program.
‘With these grants, we’re making sure schools and communities across the country that are committed to safely returning to in-person learning know that we have their backs,’ Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.