Dear Chairman Tucker,
It cannot be the happiest new year for you as chairman of the Flagler County School Board, the most dysfunctional elected board in the county. It’s an impressive achievement in a county of dysfunctional boards.
It hasn’t been the happiest years, old or new, for the rest of us, either. We remember when the school board going back to 2005 was the most collegial local government board there was (once it survived the vulgarities of the Robert Corley years, anyway). It’s now become an embarrassment of witch-hunts, QAnonism, Covid denialism, anti-vaxxers, anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, and of course book burning, the last barely a metaphor. Students can now skip their history classes’ segments on the Inquisition and antebellum America and turn on your meetings’ webcasts instead.
Or read The New York Times. It’s wonderful that Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Jack Petocz was quoted and pictured (twice) in the world’s most important newspaper. It’s hideous that it was the result of two of your colleagues’ comstockery.
There is only so much you can or should do as chairman to control the hallucinations of Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright. Let’s not have illusions of our own on this score: those two are directly and exclusively responsible for the board’s degradation into binges of deceit and zealotry. McDonald regularly uses her position to abuse the truth. Her covid- and vaccine denialism is no less irresponsible than, say, Holocaust denialism, with the difference that falsifying Holocaust history is just bigotry. Falsifying Covid and vaccine science, from her position, may influence decisions and cause harm.
The other one hasn’t gone that far. She’d rather focus on whitewashing history (emphasis on white), as when she went apoplectic a few months ago that a reading exercise included a child’s testimony about taking part in a Black Lives Matter march. Perhaps a vivid first-person account of an insurrectionist shitting on congressional floors at the Capitol might please her sensibilities better. Or when she slandered the superintendent, district staff and librarians with allegations of criminality over that book we heard so much about circulating in high school libraries. She accused. She was wrong and proven so. And of course she never apologized. She just tried, as McDonald had tried in August, to get the school board attorney fired. Your vote stopped the folly.
These two have found in certain crowds a way to appeal to baser instincts and grievances that have nothing to do with the day to day running of good schools, nothing to do with the humanistic aims of education. It’s nothing particular to Flagler: the last thing they are, Woolbright and McDonald, is original. They’re downscale copycats of a national strategy. You can time their ideological eruptions to the latest outrages on Newsmax or Fox, from where Woolbright transcribed her plan of attack on school librarians, from where McDonald cribs her manias for denialism, from where both learned to exalt the mob behind the doublespeak of parental rights.
That’s their game. It’s not yours. So it’s not necessarily fair to refer to the imposture as “the school board.” I don’t mean to implicate you and your two colleagues, Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro, who have kept their feet firmly planted in the 21st century, and law. The three of you have managed, so far anyway, to keep the wheels on this school bus from flailing. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to douse the bonfires of those twin vainglories.
For one, it seems curious that you’re willing to enforce your school board rules only one way. You were quick to silence one of those mummies for liberty at your last meeting when she began to sputter some lies about Conklin. You told her that she was prohibited from naming individuals on the board. If that’s the case, why have you allowed the likes of Woolbright and McDonald to use their position on the dais to slander individual news organizations–namely, of course, FlaglerLive–or, as Woolbright did before the break, Flagler Parent, a Facebook group that’s kept its eyes on the board for several years and done a good job of it, to Woolbright’s displeasure? I happen to think the prohibition on the public to single out board members by name is illegal. I’m glad to see a bill in the legislature potentially addressing that. But it’s worth noting the board’s hypocrisy on that score. You don’t want to be singled out. But the rule doesn’t apply to you as board members. Perhaps you could bring a little consistency to bear.
Second, you’ve been on the School Board long enough to know a few things about the Sunshine Law, and to speak up for it. At a recent meeting Woolbright was incensed that news reporting had beaten the board to its own punch with articles about her book-banning hysterics. She thinks our job as reporters (or bloggers, if she prefers) is just to sit and wait for PR handouts from your Minitrue office. She explicitly said that the board had its own PR office and that all messaging — I think she meant to say massaging– should be channeled through it. Anything else was somehow a leak.
But it’s part of your responsibility, you as chairman and you as board members, to know the law, and to know that anything school related in your possession, other than student records, is public record. There is no such thing as leaking a public record. There is no such thing as a school board member possessing a record that can be leaked. It can only be provided upon request. It must be provided upon request. Not doing so with reasonable speed is unlawful. Woolbright doesn’t understand that we don’t need leaks. It’s enough to do our job as reporters. But it’s not your job to sit on information until your PR machine is ready, as Woolbright would like. That is illegal.
It’s also contemptuous of the public board members presume to be serving, as if information were a privilege for you to dispense when you choose, if you choose, in the manner in which you choose to dispense it. There’s a word for that, Jill: пропаганда.
Again, you’re not implicated, Chairman Tucker. But your silence is enabling your two rogue colleagues’ hypocrisy, their disinformation, their cynical manipulations of public and trust. They’re owed a certain deference as duly elected colleagues: even crackpots deserve representation. But there are rules, your own board rules, and there are laws–not just those the two cherry-pickers like to focus on in their pandering inquisitions.
You remember what the school board was like before these two hijacked it, before Flagler had unreason to be worldwide news for intolerance. We all do. Until they have their third vote, it’s in your power to re-assert the reality-based majority you speak for. Anything less is appeasement, and appeasement in this noxious climate is complicity.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
D Francis says
BRAVO! And thanks again to Conklin and Massaro for doing the job they were elected to do “by the book.”
Deborah Coffey says
Ditto. And, let’s vote the two madwomen out of office!
Dennis C Rathsam says
Mad women my ass!!! Their in a space in time that has come & gone….How the hell did they ever get ellected? We are talking about the new generation…WE GOTTA DO BETTER!!!!
Sorry, Tristan, while I agree with some of your points, you and your “rag” of a newspaper are far from innocent in reporting trash and stirring controversy.
The dude says
The old “but he did it first” argument.
A playground staple for generations.
So if Mr. Tristan agrees to stop reporting on the horrible things the horrible members of the city council, county council, and school board do, you’ll 100% agree with him that these two batshit crazy ladies have no business on Flagler County’s school board?
Concerned Citizen says
The actions of these 2 have been well documented in this county. Or is M one of the two named?
Hear hear, I concur on most of your statements with the exception of 1. It falls on us the voters not just the chairman of the board to control these 2 monkeys. This as you stated was one of the most respected elected boards in Flagler County. Today as I say it’s a disgraceful one, running a close Second to FCBOCC with Mullins. Which whom appears to have slightly toned down his stupidity. And the city of P.C. council members. I accept it’s they’re right to freedom of speech. But not as elected officials during you official capacity. It’s time for them to know that they represent us, the students, and not their special interests or beliefs, or even far fetched imaginations, or delusional world. I implore the citizens of this county to take a stance and vote these fools out of office once and for all, let our voices and votes be heard loud and clear.
William Moya says
Citizens would take a stand and vote given the opportunity to do so, but we ended up with a political system (Constitution) that is adverse to democracy, and which subsequently it is used, and fallen prey to Fascism, and with another political party whose main concern is to maintain the Union (status quo) and sees appeasement as a way out, to some extent because they are unable to Build Back Better. What is going on in local governments is very much a representation of the national dispute, a sort of, who owns America? Alas, a conundrum without a solution.
Concerned For Our Children says
100% agree. To everyone else.. Vote,Vote,Vote! Get informed.. we have highly qualified, clear thinking candidates who will be running for both of those seats! Please don’t let your party affiliation blind you! This is a non-partisan race and our students need us to change this dysfunctional Flagler County School Board!
Sherri S-Sanders says
Great article and spot on! Now we need the People of Palm Coast to Vote in November and remove Woolbright and McDonald from the FC School Board!
Our students and county deserve better, thank goodness for Conklin and Massaro.
Mike Cocchiola says
I have the answers to the current school board crazies. Elect Courtney VandeBunte and Sally Hunt in November. They’ll fix the problem.
I agree! They are not only embarrassing, they are dangerous. They should not serve on a school board if they do not support the tenets of PUBLIC education.
YES! Well written and we need more editorials like this to call out the BS board members so they never get elected again. Not the board only, go for Governor DUH all the way down the list. VOTE!
I applaud your reference to “comstockery” and trust it will send at least some to their search engines of choice. On the other hand, I fear that you (and I) are the outliers in Flagler County, not McDonald and Woolbright. I can easily imagine a Flagler Chamber of Commerce dinner with either Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Ron DeSantis, or Steve Brannon as a celebrated guest speaker. They, as well as McDonald and Woolbright, are mere gradations of the same person.
Trailer Bob says
I am totally annoyed at the Republican Party in Flagler County. I am a longtime Republican and past Republican elected official from up north in a super Democratic State.
I do not blame the elected crazies…I blame the uninformed voters who simply vote by party line.
Vote for experience, decency, and honesty…NOT the party line.
The future of our County is at stake.
Thank you Flagler Live for reporting the unmanipulated story of our School Board. These two champion prevaricators must go. Can someone tell me what benefits they are to the students and the staff?
Concerned Citizen says
A lot of people continue to complain on Flagler Live and other Forums. Which is great and all but.
If you’re really serious about changes make it happen at the polls. We have one of the greatest privilege’s in the world. And that is to vote who represents us. Start taking those privilege’s seriously. Inform yourselves. Do background checks on your candidates. They aren’t hard to do. make an informed decision and do what’s right when you go to cast a vote.
I have been in this county for over 20 plus years. There’s a sad habit of voters continuing to vote the same but expecting different. Because you’re more comfortable with what you know. Why? If a candidate is a new name or face but is qualified give that person a chance!! break this silly cycle of people holding office for 20 years because you’re scared of change. otherwise we will never improve.
The Flagler County taxpayers have had enough of McDonald. It has been over a year we have expressed we want her off the Board of Education, every time she opens her mouth she convinces us more and more we will be voting her out of office and sad it isn’t sooner then November.
Elect Courtney VandeBunte and Sally Hunt in November. They’ll fix the problem.
Pierre has pointed out that true “leadership” is sorely lacking in our local governing bodies. Consider the possibility that many Republican politicians have apparently lost the power of their own moral convictions. They are shirking their responsibilities under the guise of “over” protecting the freedom of speech to the horrific extreme. It appears they have been stripped of the courage to “do the right thing” for their constituents by the “group think” culture warriors of Rupert Murdoch’s (FOX)/trump’s extreme right.
Lacking the strength of leadership, they choose to remain cowardly silent and therefore complaisant. Not only do we need to vote OUT the two completely repugnant school board members, we need to vote IN honest, ethical LEADERS. This goes for the Flagler county commission, as well. We Need a Big Change! Do your thorough research on each candidate . . . Make Your Vote Really Count!
What has the school board actually accomplished this year besides setting a defiant and disrespectful example for students. How about transportation for after school tutoring and activities?
Daniel Croft says
I have made a lot of mistakes voting all my life but none worse than voting for Jill Woolbright.
Soooo sad to realize that she is a school board membe for PUBLiC schools