Communication Builds Our Community

Major Donor to Local Schools Calls for Mandatory Masks, Vaccines

Some viewed his email as a threat to withhold future funding, but Henry McCance says that's not what he intended.

The largest donor to Lake Wales Charter Schools, McCance says he just wants officials to know that he expects them to show "leadership" to ensure students can safely attend school in-person this year. His recommendation: Mandatory vaccines for all teachers and staff and mandatory masks for students, teachers and staff.

"I feel strongly enough about these issues that my future philanthropic support of LWCS will depend on how well you navigate these challenges," McCance wrote in a July 28 email to the charter system's Superintendent Alricky Smith; Board of Trustees Chair Andy Oguntola; Trustee Greg Hall, who is chairing the superintendent search committee; General Counsel Robin Gibson; and Lake Wales High School Principal Donna Dunson and Assistant Principal Anuj Saran.

Citing recent CDC guidance regarding masks and the reported safety and effectiveness of vaccines, McCance wrote: "I am not in a position to offer anything but my opinion. However, I feel strongly about the opportunity to create a safe environment for learning at the LWCS schools for 21-22, if we make brave decisions that will be out of step with what I suspect the other Polk County public schools will do (and in step with what many private schools will do)."

McCance said the exclusive private school his grandchildren attend in Connecticut is mandating vaccines and masks.

Since 2012 McCance has donated upwards of $5 million in cash and stock, most directed to Lake Wales High School or Bok Academy South. Stocks are liquidated the year they are received to make the funds available to the schools for a variety of special initiatives. Dunson and Gibson praised McCance and credited his support as having a significant impact on the high school's success, including being named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation's top schools.

McCance said before sending the email he talked to Dunson, who told him no final decisions regarding masks for the new school year had been made. While they could change their position depending upon local experience with COVID-19, officials recently announced masks will be voluntary for students, teachers and staff for the new school year. Teachers return Aug. 2, and the students start Aug. 10.

Regarding his email, McCance said: "I wanted to identify myself as an important donor and the importance of having high attendance for students, teachers and staff. Having masks worn and having vaccinated as many as possible increases those odds."

McCance, 78, has a winter home in Mountain Lake and spends summers in upstate New York. As chairman emeritus of Greyrock, McCance is one of the nation's most highly recognized venture capitalists. He also helped start a nonprofit dedicated to alzheimer's research and funds brain research at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"I am not threatening and did not mean to threaten that my philanthropy will disappear if I don't get my way. It's the decision of the school board and principals of the schools," McCance said when asked about the email. "I didn't mean it to come across 'do it my way or forget me.' I was trying to say I'm an important donor who believes in the charter schools and this is my opinion.

"I wish them the best of luck – I have no problem if they choose to go a different way and have great success. If they go a different way and fail, I have to ask myself 'is that the kind of leadership I can support?'"

McCance said students suffered when the pandemic forced online classes, despite the best efforts of teachers. He said he recognizes vaccines are a personal choice and doesn't expect anyone to be fired for refusing them.

"In retrospect, I should have ended my letter by saying, 'as a philanthropist deeply devoted and supportive of the Lake Wales Charter Schools, I feel it is vitally important to use every tool or lever available to keeping students, teachers, and staff healthy, safe and present in the LWCS schools for the 21-22 academic year. In my opinion, the academic success and progress of the students will depend on that.'"


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