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School Board member Lori Cunningham announced Wednesday that she will retire from the panel when her fifth term ends next year – and endorsed a man she hopes will be her replacement.
“I am so very grateful for the opportunity to have served as the Polk County School Board Member for District 2,” Cunningham said in a written statement issued just before 5 p.m. by Polk County Public Schools. “It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to represent the students, families, and staff in northeast Polk and throughout the county.”
Cunningham has been a member of the School Board for more than 18 years, serving several terms as chairwoman. When she steps down in December 2024, it will mark her 20th anniversary on the board. While the School Board seats are specific to a geographic region and schools in that area, the office is a county-wide seat and board members are elected through a county-wide vote.
Cunningham’s last meeting is still 20 months away, but she has already endorsed the man she would like to see fill the District 2 seat.
“I have been working with Mr. Travis Keyes for the past three years, appointing him as liaison to the school district’s Audit & Finance Committee, Attendance & Boundary Committee, and the Superintendent Search Committee,” Cunningham said. “Travis has served diligently in this capacity and has held leadership positions as needed. Thus, it is my honor and pleasure to support Mr. Travis Keyes for School Board Member, District 2 in the 2024 election, and I trust that you will consider doing so as well.”
Cunningham was chairwoman during part of the two-year-long COVID-19 pandemic, steering the district through lockdowns, mask requirements, and the distribution of electronic devices to more than 100,000 students in a matter of weeks.
But she also generated controversy in August 2021 when, during a surge in COVID numbers and deaths, she said she had not seen any evidence that face masks work and called them “stupid,” complaining that her husband, a teacher who has respiratory issues, had trouble wearing the mask.
“My position is we live in the United States of America, the home of the free and the brave,” Cunningham stated during a School Board meeting. “I am absolutely never going to vote to put a mask on staff, teachers, employees, children or parents. There is a saying out there and it’s not very eloquent — you do you. If you want to wear a mask this is a free country. Put on your mask or … do what you feel is best for you. I do not feel we are in any position to dictate, ‘Yeah, you have to wear a mask in order to get a damn paycheck.’”
She is known as a supporter of both the arts and engineering programs, especially for girls. She graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of South Florida in 1985 and worked for many years for a power company.
She currently owns and operates Applied Images, Inc., an apparel company that offers printed, embellished and embroidered clothing. Its website includes shirts, jackets and athletic apparel for schools including Bok Academy, Davenport School of the Arts, Dundee Elementary Academy, Frostproof High School, Harrison School of the Arts and Lake Wales High School.
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