Courtney VandeBunte is one of seven candidates in three races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 23 primary election, and one of three in the District 2 race, an open seat. She faces Lance Alred and Will Furry.
School board elections–for Districts 1, 2 and 4–are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in the two races–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.
If you are a registered voter in Flagler County, you may cast a vote in all three races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in–or whether you are out of state or living abroad, in which case absentee ballots may be sent in.
The election on Aug. 23 will decide the winners in District 1 between incumbent Jill Woolbright and Sally Hunt, and in District 4 between incumbent Trevor Tucker and Christy Chong. District 2, where incumbent Janet McDonald has opted not to run (she is running for a county commission seat) is a three-way race between Lance, Furry and VandeBunte. The race in this case would be decided only if a candidate wins better than 50 percent of the vote. Short of that, the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off, to be decided in the general election on Nov. 8.
School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $36,000 a year. The amount is set by the Legislature, not the local school board. It increases by a shade under $1,000 each year. Last spring the Legislature passed HB1467, a bill, enacted this year, that institutes a 12-year term limit for school board members. But the clock doesn’t start ticking until November. In other words, any school board member who has served one or more term by then will not have that time counted against the tenure. The restriction is on consecutive years only.
FlaglerLive submitted 14 identical questions to the school board candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked. Questions appear in bold. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in bold and italics, and may be awaiting answers. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.
|To vote: see a sample ballot here. Early voting is between Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at four sites in the county, listed here. You may vote early at any of the four sites regardless of your precinct location. To vote by mail, request your mail-in ballot here. Because of the Legislature's new law, restricting voting convenience, drop boxes are available, but only to a limited degree. The ballot drop box at the Elections Office will be monitored by a staff member beginning 60 days prior to the election, through Election Day. This drop box will no longer be available after office hours or on weekends, except during the early voting period. Other drop boxes will be available at early voting locations, but only during the days of early voting, and only during voting hours. Mail ballots must be received in the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. If returning your ballot by mail, please allow at least ten days for delivery. A postmark does not extend this deadline. You may track your ballot here. All other election-procedure related inquiries can be answered at the Elections Office's website.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Purpose, vision and preparation
- Role models
- Budget cuts
- District accomplishments and failures
- Half-penny sales tax
- Evaluating Superintendent Mittelstadt
- Sheriff’s contract and armed civilians in schools
- Impact fees
- School enrollment and the future of public education
- “Don’t say gay” and anti-woke bills
- Prayer in school.
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Daytona Beach, June 26, 1987.
Current job: Independent contractor, curriculum design.
Net worth: Click here for financial disclosure form. Resume here.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Democrat.
Websites and Social Media: Www.courtneyforflagler.com / @court4flaglersb (facebook, twitter, instagram)
1. What is your vision for public education in Flagler County and how are you uniquely qualified to help enact it within the limitations of the job? If you’re an incumbent, what examples illustrate how you yourself, as opposed to the board collectively, made a difference in enacting your vision in your previous years on the board? If you’re a challenger, what have you done to prepare, so that you’re ready from day one?
My vision for public education in Flagler County is educating the whole child, which means acknowledging each child’s unique backgrounds, experiences, and needs. The current “Strategic Plan” released by the district does a good job at beginning to address all of a student’s individual needs, and that is the only way we can achieve the district’s mission of “Providing a safe learning environment to empower all students to reach their full potential as responsible, ethical, and productive citizens in a diverse and changing ”
I am uniquely qualified because I have first-hand, recent experience not only as an educator, but also as a parent. Just like how my three children have individual needs, learning styles and personality traits, so do all of the children in Flagler County. Each student’s needs must be met in order to achieve academic progress. I also know what it’s like as an educator to feel supported by my leadership as well as unsupported. My experiences as a student and a teacher in Flagler Schools will provide the Board with essential perspectives pertaining to the success of each student. I can provide the Board with perspectives on increasing staff morale that would lead to a decrease in staff turnover, which has a direct impact on student achievement. My experience as a recent educator, and parent of elementary children in the district will provide the Board with important insight that is currently lacking.
I’ve attended and participated in almost every school board workshop and meeting since last June. I have been interacting with and listening to the public at in-person events as well as on social media since June of 2021. I’ve also been educating myself on the new legislation that went into effect on July 1 and have been learning about how it will impact our district and our students’ learning.
You taught at Flagler schools for 10 years until 2019 and were Teacher of the Year at FPC in 2016: What led to your leaving?
I started teaching in Flagler in 2010 as an Advanced Placement Biology teacher at Matanzas High School. I spent the majority of my teaching at FPC High School as a science teacher of various subjects across grades 9-12 and my last year teaching was in 2018 when I taught 6th grade science and social studies at Old Kings Elementary. At the time, I had a one, three, and five-year-old and had an opportunity to work from home designing standards-based science curricula for schools around the country. It was a difficult decision to leave teaching, but it was the best decision for my family at that time.
Sally Hunt, District 1
Jill Woolbright, District 1
Lance Alred, District 2
Will Furry, District 2
Courtney VandeBunte, District 2
Christy Chong, District 4
Leann Pennington, District 4
Janet McDonald, District 2
Greg Hansen, District 2
2. Who among school board members of the past 10 years or so do your most closely identify with, and why? Who in the world at large, and among the living, do you consider a role model of political or intellectual leadership?
Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro. They are both strong and passionate women who clearly care about the success and well being of Flagler’s staff and students. They are in the role for the benefit of all student’s in the county, and not for political purposes or self-gain. They are independent thinkers who are able to focus on the needs of this district and not the noise often heard around education.
So many authors and pioneers in education come to mind but I’d have to choose Dolly Parton. From paying for her employees’ college tuition to distributing over 150 million free books to children all across the country, Dolly continues to give back in a grand way despite coming from humble beginnings. I also love that she honors teachers who have overcome obstacles and have devoted their lives to making positive differences for children. Dolly continues to dream big and realizes that “You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.”
3. Candidates often have a list of things they plan to accomplish if elected. As one five board members, what is your understanding of the power of—and limitations on–an individual member, and how would you go about exercising this power and respecting its limits to accomplish specific goals?
An individual Board member doesn’t have power but each board member has their own unique experiences and areas of expertise, and collectively, the Board can use and call upon those strengths to shape decisions and policies in the best interests of students. I would work collaboratively with my fellow board members to truly examine and discuss what matters most to the Flagler Schools community, which is the safety, overall success and happiness of the student body. As a Board member, I will put great trust and faith in the educational professionals already hired in the district to lead us toward our goals as a community. With clear goals and a common purpose, it becomes much easier for us to operate as a board that enables, rather than one that is divisive and slows progress.
Where do you see the limits of a board member’s authority? What would be considered crossing a line, in the exercise of your functions as a board member?
A Board member’s authority is established by the state of Florida. I would consider anything that breaks the law crossing a line. Elected officials and public servants work as the voice of their constituents, and therefore, it is important to meet the expectations of the law. It’s also important and essential that Board members uphold the established protocol and policy and if they disagree with a policy, they should work that out with their fellow Board members.
4. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring (or have brought) to the board, what your temperament is like: if you’re an incumbent, what do you consider may have been a mistake or a misjudgment on your part in your official capacity—something you’d do over, differently–in your last term? If you’re a challenger, apply the question to your work or civic involvement in recent years.
I am born and raised in Flagler. I went to school here. I graduated from here. I’ve worked at Matanzas High School, Flagler Palm Coast High School, and Old Kings Elementary School. My three children go to school here. All of that means that I have skin in the game and that I have a real vested interest in the success of our schools and our community. As a Board member, I’ll be a passionate advocate for our students and for our staff and respectfully stand up to ensure that each child has what they need to be successful. Something I would have done differently in my civic involvement is seeking to understand other perspectives earlier on. Each parent has different beliefs, hopes and fears and one parent’s desires should not outweigh others. Each families’ voice is important. We’re fortunate to live in a country with so many varying beliefs and perspectives and it is important to first understand where someone is coming from before trying to be understood by someone else. As a Board member, I will always try to first “understand” before seeking to “be understood”.
Can you point to an error in judgment or a mistake you did in your years as a teacher, what corrective action you took and what you learned from it?
Every day in teaching I learned something new. Each year, I had a different class of students with many different learning styles and needs. I had to become fluent in many different curricula while also learning to be agile and adapt to specific situations. It took years to become comfortable with my pedagogy and even when I was comfortable, I learned that there is always room for improvement, and there is always something new to learn. One of the things I learned in my professional development as an educator during a workshop I attended was how to increase student engagement by connecting learning to their lives. By making learning relevant to their lives, students are more likely to buy into their academics. After applying this to my teaching, I noticed a significant increase in student engagement which led to an increase in academic achievement! I am a strong believer in continuous learning and growth and know that passion will translate into my success as a School Board member for Flagler County.
5. Finances are always a challenge. Let’s imagine that during the next term, the district will contend with the kind of recession it contended with between 2008 and 2010, when revenue fell sharply. What two or three program areas, aside from instruction, would you consider cutting, and what areas would you consider too critical?
That really does depend on the situation and how the theoretical recession is impacting our students and staff. When, as a community, we suffer from an economic downturn, it is of the utmost importance that our children have what they require. Not just in terms of food and education, but that they feel safe and supported. While the schools cannot possibly meet every personal need in a student’s life, they are the structure where the children spend a large portion of their time. So, when parents lose jobs or when there is a health crisis, I will do whatever is in my power as a School Board member to make sure that our students’ basic needs are being met. We know that when basic needs are met, a students’ top priority can be learning. So, many areas that help meet the basic needs of students, such as food services, school nurses, transportation, counselors, arts, athletics and resource deputies, are areas too critical to cut.
When considering programs to be cut, I’d review to see what grants are available or what could be fundraised through the community.
You laid out your approach in principle, but given your familiarity with the budget and the process from your attendance at nearly every meeting and workshop, can you cite a few specific initiatives or programs that could come ahead of others if and when it’s time to scale back, and are there untouchable items other than instruction?
Untouchable items (other than instruction) would be anything that contributes to a student’s well-being, such as school security/School Resource Deputies (SRDs), school counselors, mental health programs, free breakfast, the free/reduced lunch program, etc. Also, transportation would be untouchable to ensure our students are able to get to school and get what they need each day. Choosing what to cut is dependent upon the school site and conversations with the leaders of those schools. If it is an expense that is not connected to instruction or the well-being of the students, then those are the conversations we would have first.
6. Setting aside Covid policies and procedures, what are the district’s three brightest successes and the three failures that affected students most in the past two to four years? What will be your chief priorities regarding student achievement, within the limits of the doable—that is, four years from now, what can we look back to and say: you were responsible?
The District’s three brightest successes are:
- The roll-out of the District’s Strategic Plan with specific goals that align with their mission statement of “Providing a safe learning environment to empower all students to reach their full potential as responsible, ethical, and productive citizens in a diverse and changing world.”
- The engagement of the entire community: parents, students, teachers, support staff, school board members, and other stakeholders in the feedback and creation of not only the Strategic Plan but also in updating policies ranging from Media Service Parental Choice to updating the Student Code of Conduct and Dress Code.
- The progress that has been made regarding Mental Health Awareness with their ambitions to train at least 80 percent of the entire District staff in Mental Health Awareness by the end of this upcoming year, as well as the increase in partnerships and contracts with mental health professionals ranging from social workers to mental health counselors.
The District’s three failures are:
- Not addressing high staff turnover in a way that is consistent across the district. More efforts to identify the variety of causes of staff turnover need to be addressed–whether through more frequent confidential surveys or trusted conversations with established leadership chains. If staff know that the district is working towards a goal of supporting them, boosting morale and reducing turnover, then they are more likely to offer input and solutions and therefore, the students and families benefit.
- The refusal to denounce hate groups such as the ones that showed up at the November Board meetings yelling hateful slurs at students. The Board must model respectful and transparent engagement with the community and students.
- Lack of unification efforts between families and staff. While it has been a tough few years for everyone, families need to feel welcomed and listened to by school staff. The district has a responsibility to hold school leaders accountable for creating a school environment that welcomes student’s and their families so they feel supported. Instances of school leaders failing to communicate with families about procedure changes and school staff being visibly impatient with families at drop-off and pick up times, etc. are small but significant concerns. By setting expectations of schools to create cultures that are warm and welcoming, the district will be providing our students with the environment necessary to excel academically.
My chief priorities regarding student achievement would be to beat the state average in passing rates, raising the achievement level of student groups that have historically underperformed, and reaching an “A” grade rating as a district. One way to achieve this goal would be to increase the school culture between students, families, and staff. When I started teaching at Old Kings Elementary in November of 2018, I was the 3rd teacher for my 6th grade classes. Students of all ages need consistency from their teachers to reach their maximum potential. Currently, our district is experiencing high turn-over and our students are paying for that. Four years from now, I hope we can look back and say that my experience as a Flagler educator provided essential and meaningful insight to the Board and resulted in a significant reduction in staff turn-over and a significant increase in school culture that directly impacted student achievement.
In your commendations, your second point applauds the district’s “engagement of the entire community,” but in your list of failures, your third point says the opposite–a “lack of unification efforts between families and staff.” Can you explain the contradiction? Is turn-over specific to this district or, as has been widely reported across Florida and the nation, a systemic problem in the profession? And if it is a systemic problem, how might Flagler address it?
In the second point where I applauded the district’s “engagement of the entire community” I was referring to things like sharing the Strategic Plan, deciding on a new dress code, and rolling out the new media policy. When I mentioned the district’s “lack of unification efforts between families and staff,” I was referring to the district’s need to improve the school culture amongst teachers and staff as well as families. Important elements of school culture include creating a welcoming and nurturing environment for all constituents.
Turn-over is a system problem in the profession, but the district could increase their active recruitment of individuals that fit their vision. There also needs to be a cohesive district vision that includes the staff’s input and voice. If we have a district with a mission that everyone can believe in and feel a part of, teachers will start to feel supported rather than feeling isolated or alone, making it more likely that they will stay in the profession.
7. This year, the district’s half-penny sales surtax expires. It’s on the November ballot. The district will seek to renew it for the third time for the next 10 years. It’s been in effect for 20 years. Evaluate its worth, explaining how you see where it’s paid off, how you see where it has not. Do you support its renewal, openly advocating for it on the campaign trail, and the focus areas for the next 10 years’ spending. Would you alter its scope in any way and fund different items?
The worth of the half-penny sales tax is invaluable and dynamic. It is a great opportunity for tax-payers to know exactly where their money is going and to feel good about it. It has paid off the most with the enhancement of technology, software and WiFi as well as with providing each student with their own personal device. As a former educator in Flagler, I have seen the benefits of this first-hand. The fact that every student has access to their own device is partly why Flagler will be Florida’s Premier Learning Organization because our students are graduating with the knowledge and experience of using technological tools effectively that will directly benefit them in their lives after graduation.
That being said, it is important that the district focuses on using technology as a tool rather than a means of instruction. Laptops and iPads are not meant to replace teachers, books, and other resources, but are meant to be used as a tool to collect, organize and analyze information in a way that sets them up for success in a tech-ruled society. So yes, I support its renewal and understand that technology is dynamic and always changing which means we need more money to keep up with updates and stay competitive with enhanced and innovative learning labs that can be paid for with this low tax renewal . I’d like to see the district focus a significant portion of these funds towards school safety. Having a single-point-of-entry system on every campus, electronically-controlled door locks, and real-time surveillance by the sheriff’s office is something that every voter can see value in. We value the safety and well-being of our kids and staff members and want them to be able to learn and teach while feeling safe which is why I support it’s renewal.
8. On July 1 Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt enters the third and, for now, final year of her current contract. Assuming you have followed the school board closely in preparation for your run (or are immersed in it as an incumbent), give us your evaluation of Mittlestadt as a leader, as an educational visionary and as an executive. Would you renew her contract? If yes, tell us on what terms. If not, tell us why. Along those lines, what is your experience and success in recruiting and hiring senior executives?
The next year’s successes or lack thereof will be the determining factor in whether or not I would vote to renew her contract. Although I have attended almost every meeting and workshop since last June, my evaluation of Superintendent Mittlestadt is limited to an outsider looking in. Until I am able to work with her in a one-on-one capacity, I would not be able to say whether or not I would renew her contract. While my experience in recruiting and hiring senior executives is limited, my experience in serving under a Superintendent is not. As a former Flagler Schools educator, I have served under previous superintendents: Janet Valentine, Jacob Oliva, and James Tager. I understand the importance of a superintendent’s ability to lead our schools with an exceptional educational vision while being able to make executive decisions. Superintendent Mittlestadt appears to have a clear vision for Flagler Schools with the unveiling of a strong Strategic Plan. This next year will be very telling as to her leadership capabilities and her willingness to stand up and support her students and school staff as challenges present themselves.
9. The County Commission through the sheriff pays for roughly half the cost of sheriff’s deputies in schools but it doesn’t have to: security is a district responsibility. Despite that, the school board has at times spoken of the growing financial burden of its share of the contract. What is your opinion of the district’s relationship and contract with the sheriff’s office? If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would you? Alternately, would you be willing to arm civilians in addition to existing deputies, and if so, what sort of ratio of armed civilians per campus would you want, and how would that relieve the district’s financial costs of security? Going that route, do we risk over-weaponizing campuses?
The district has a responsibility to ensure the safety of all school constituents and maintaining a positive and trusting relationship with the Sheriff’s department is part of that. Maintaining this relationship is imperative to school safety and the dollars spent on that contract should be prioritized. Spending dollars on arming civilians as an alternative, even if it saves the district money, will not ensure the safety and well-being of students and school staff and is not something I believe will make students safer based on the available research. That said, we don’t know if arming civilians in addition to the already existing deputies will make people safer because of the lack of data. I think it is important that students have positive and trusting relationships with school staff, and that everyone feels safe. Before making a decision to arm civilians on campus, data regarding how students and staff would feel about additional weapons on campus is essential to consider.
10. The Flagler Home Builders Association and the County Commission successfully blocked a doubling of school impact fees this year, scaling back the school board’s original plan. First, who pays impact fees? Second, do you think either the School Board was unreasonable in proposing its original impact fee schedule, or was the County Commission unreasonable to block it? Setting Florida’s strange statutory requirements aside in this regard, should the County Commission even have a say in ratifying or blocking the policies of a school board? Should home builders?
First, impact fees are paid for by property developers. Second, I think the county was unreasonable to block the impact fees considering the school board was able to show that they were at capacity and present them with a fact-based and independent study projecting future student growth. While it seems extreme to double impact fees for the first time since 2005, inflation should be considered into why the district requested that large of an increase. However, each municipality – Home Builders, School District, and local governing Boards, have their own agendas, and for good reason. The success of our community relies on the interconnectedness of successful home builders, a successful job market, and successful schools. It is important that all municipalities communicate with each other to ensure that the best decision is made. After attending the last ILA Oversight Committee Meeting on July 7, there seemed to be a lack of transparency, with municipalities not being on the same page. It is important to understand that the school district is getting the impact fees, even though it’s not as much as they originally requested, and it’s currently a matter of how much upfront and how long developers have to pay the entire amount. The working groups appear to be headed in the right direction by meeting and asking pointed questions and I am eager to see what decision is made at future meetings. In summary, all municipalities should consider presented data from reputable studies regarding growth and the need for new schools, but should also look at what comparable counties are doing.
11. Flagler County’s population has grown substantially in the last decade and a half, from an estimated population of 89,000 in 2006 to 119,000 last year, according to UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Yet school enrollment has been remarkably flat since 2007. One reason is a big demographic shift as the proportion of older residents has grown while that of school-age residents has shrunk. The population grew by 33 percent. The 65-and-over population grew by 70 percent, from 21,400 people 65 and over to 36,500. Private, religious, virtual schools and home-schooling are also factors. What is the future of traditional public education in your view, and are Flagler schools doing enough to counter enrollment erosion from traditional public schools?
We live in a state where families have a lot of choice for their child’s education. It is up to us in Flagler to make sure that our schools are a community resource and that we are offering competitive options to our students. Flagler schools has been marketing themselves as “Florida’s Premier Learning Organization” and has been doing well with that considering the success of the classroom-to-careers program and the unique flagship opportunities at each school. Homeschool, private, and virtual schools cannot compete with the multitude of resources Flagler Schools has established ranging from students being able to earn veterinary assisting certificates at FPCHS to students gaining valuable experience in the criminal law program at MHS. The opportunities Flagler Schools has to offer, starting at the elementary level, are many but need to continue to expand. Flagler Schools must continue to grow its classroom-to-careers program and continue to expand it’s flagship and trade opportunities by ensuring teachers and staff have the resources they need to help them become “Florida’s Premier Learning Organization”. There are programs that the district has failed, specifically the Project-Based Learning program at FPCHS. This program, once highly successful but small, has been dissolved into the main campus without the proper training or resource expenditure needed to make it successful. It’s programs like the Project-Based Learning program that will set Flagler Schools apart in being “Florida’s Premier Learning Organization” and the district must provide schools with the proper training and resources to counter the enrollment erosion we’re seeing today.
If non-public schools cannot compete with the district’s offerings, how do you explain this 14-year flatline in public school enrollment, which the demographic shift alone does not account for?
Yes, the flat enrollment is disappointing. There are increased opportunities for choice. The reason people continue to pick other options is that there are variables that they consider such as safety, religion, class size, etc. rather than just school performance. But that is why we need to increase our school performance and the unique pathways through our schools.
We need to ensure that our public schools can meet the needs of all families, not just through performance, but through programs, quality teachers, support services, athletics, arts, etc. All children in Flagler County should have the opportunity to be safe and thrive right here in our public schools.
12. Two of the more contested bills in the last legislative sessions were HB1557, at times referred to as the “don’t say gay” bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, and HB7, the so-called “anti-woke” bill, which restricts conversations about racism and sexism in schools. Residents now have the ability to sue the district when faced with allegations of infractions, and the district has to assume legal costs regardless. If you were to propose amendments or re-writes of the two laws at the next legislative session, what, if any, would those recommendations be?
It’s important to focus on what can be controlled, and as a Board member, I will follow the state laws and ensure that professional development training and resources are in place to support our staff. I do believe that clarity is needed in the language of both bills. Regarding HB7, the new subsection (8) of section 760.10 when employment practices are discussed as well as the new subsection (4) of section 1000.05 where discrimination is discussed, the aim is to protect individuals, whether staff or students, from being compelled to believe certain things regarding discrimination. To answer the question, if I were to propose changes, I’d ask my committee for research to support the current changes. I have not yet been convinced that the additions are necessary being that they are partisan and share only one view of American history. I do not want students or staff to be compelled to believe that they are responsible for historical oppression nor do I want students to be compelled to feel guilty.
What I want and will advocate for as a Board member is for opportunities to think critically and be exposed to multiple historical perspectives in an objective manner. While we do not want our students feeling guilt or anguish (line 95, HB7), we understand that history is full of tough topics that must be addressed in an age-appropriate way and in a safe and accepting learning environment with supports present for that student to rely on. Paragraph (b) in both above-mentioned sections does clarify that the specific discrimination topics mentioned are not prohibited from being discussed, as long as it is presented in an objective manner without endorsement. This is a very important paragraph in this bill and encourages critical thinking among students, as long as staff are supported with the training and resources necessary to remain objective. However, this does not solve the issue of potential litigation. The clarity that is needed is how to address situations where a resident, such as a parent, pursues litigation because their student said they felt anguish in class after learning about the Holocaust, or the enslavement of Africans, for example.
Clarification is needed regarding the evidence of whether or not the teacher remained objective, and who decides if they were or were not. If litigation is pursued, the district would have to devote their time and resources that could be otherwise spent bettering our education system.
Regarding HB1557, I agree that kindergarten through 3rd grade students should not be instructed on sexual orientation or gender identity as mentioned in paragraph (c) section 3 of subsection (8) of section 1 of Florida Statute 1001.42 in HB1557. I want to say that again…I agree that k-3 students should not receive classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. To answer the original question of what changes I would make, I would seek to add clarification on the definition of “instruction” to ensure that LGBTQ teachers do not have to hide their identities due to fear of litigation. Lines 99-100 of this bill state: “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”. Considering that, I would seek to add clarification that these lines allow for discussions regarding a school staff member’s same-sex partner, or a k-3 student’s same-sex parents, if another student asks, for example. Otherwise, a district can face litigation from a parent or resident who is not happy with their child having a teacher in the LGBTQ community or having classmates with LGBTQ family members.
First, “While we do not want our students feeling guilt or anguish…” Why not? German students to this day are taught very intently that Nazism and the Holocaust are a shameful and unpardonable period of German history, an honest reckoning with and preservation of a nation’s memory being the surest ways to ensure a more just future. Why should the same approach not apply to slavery and Jim Crow–America’s holocaust, the mass terrorism of Jim Crow outlasting Nazism–let alone to the recent reemergence and normalization of hate and the denigration of minorities, which one of these bills arguably perpetrates? Second, how is a teacher in grades 1-3 discussing, say, the conventionally heterosexual boy-girl or man-woman characters in a story not implicit instruction about gender roles and identify? It’s not unheard of that a newly married heterosexual teacher will tell stories about his or her wedding, his or her honeymoon, even show pictures. Why and how is that acceptable, but a homosexual teacher sharing the same stories would not be?
First, no parent wants their child to feel negative feelings, but there are certain historic facts that we must know so we do not make the same mistakes. That doesn’t mean that we should make a 9-year-old feel guilty for things outside of their control, but what it does mean is that our students need to be informed, as informed citizens are the backbone of democracy. Students should not and will not feel personal guilt if they understand the context of historical events. If teachers teach these important historical events in objective and accurate ways, then students are more likely to internalize them in ways that are meaningful and push society towards a more just future.
Second, HB 1557 does not define “instruction” “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” “appropriate” or “third parties. If a teacher who happens to be gay mentions her wedding with her wife, does that count as “instructing” students “on sexual orientation”? What if a first grader with two dads draws a family portrait and shares it with her peers, does that constitute a “third party” providing the “instruction”? We need clarification from the state and/or Dept. of Education because it is not acceptable for teachers and families to have to hide their identity. There is a difference between sharing a story from your life, whether you are an employee or a student, clearly these do not qualify as instruction and are not age-inappropriate for k-3 students.
13. The U.S. Supreme Court has been especially friendly to the re-emergence of religious expression in public schools, or the erosions of restrictions on the use of public funds for parochial education, with more such decisions likely ahead, such as a test of the prayer-in-school standard that would go further than the Coach Kennedy case we saw this term. Do you favor a return to pre-Engle days, the 1962 decision that found school-sponsored prayer in schools unconstitutional even if participation is not required?
I will always favor what is in the best interests of students, collectively. And we must not forget that students from all religious beliefs live here in Flagler. Even if participation is not required, and even if the prayer is not tied to a particular religion, it cannot be ensured that students won’t be left feeling uncomfortable, feeling pressured, fearful or isolated. I recall playing sports at FPCHS and my coach leading our team in prayer in the locker room before a game and I remember feeling conflicted because they did not know what my religious beliefs were or were not…or what my teammates’ religious beliefs were or were not. Every religion has varying traditions and expectations that cannot all be met in a universal setting, which is why the separation of church and state is so important, especially in public school settings where parents from all different backgrounds and beliefs send their children to receive a high quality education free of any religious influence.
Just as we do not want to compel our students to feel responsible for another group’s historical oppression, we do not want to compel our students to practice a religion they may not identify with. Our founding fathers had the foresight to add freedom of religion in the first amendment of the constitution. It’s important to respect and recognize that this applies to all religions and beliefs. School is a place where students should feel comfortable and accepted, not singled-out and isolated. Allowing prayer, even if it is voluntary and “universal”, would only lead to students feeling isolated or influenced in the one place they need to feel accepted and free so meaningful learning can occur.
14. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? Have you ever been demoted? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.
No, to all of the above.
2022 Election Candidates, Flagler County
|County Commission District 2||Greg Hansen, incumbent (Rep)||Janet McDonald (Rep)||Denise Calderwood (Rep)|
|County Commission District 4||Joe Mullins, incumbent (Rep)||Leann Pennington (Rep)||Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)|
|School Board District 1||Jill Woolbright, incumbent||Sally Hunt|
|School Board District 2||Lance Alred||Will Furry||Courtney VandeBunte|
|School Board District 4||Trevor Tucker, incumbent||Christy Chong|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 2||Theresa Carli Pontieri||Sims Jones||Shauna Kanter / Alan Lowe|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 4||Cathy heighter||Fernando Melendez|