Flagler County School Board member Jill Woolbright on Nov. 9 filed a sheriff’s report charging it is a “crime” to have George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, the critically acclaimed and award-winning book for teens about growing up Black and gay, on the shelves of high school and middle school libraries. (See the sheriff’s report here.) Woolbright accused Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt of not informing other school board members about her (Woolbright’s) concerns about that and other titles she wants banned. (See: “Jill Woolbright Wants 4 Books Banned Over Anti-Racism, LGBTQ, Police Violence and Rape Themes; District Removes Them Pending Review“).
Sunday evening, School Board member Cheryl Massaro addressed the issue in a statement she posted on her Facebook page.
As I approach the end of my first year as a School Board member for Flagler County Schools, I have come to realize that patience is by far the most important trait needed to successfully perform my duties. During the past year I’ve had to use a great deal of self-restraint in order to not react when faced with the multitude of politicized issues. It is important to note that these matters are being faced by school board member nationwide. However, today I can no longer remain silent and allow a rogue school board member to destroy the hard work of our current and prior board members, as that of all of the outstanding administrators, teachers and staff who have contributed to making Flagler Schools a top-notch, competitive school district.
First and foremost, Ms. Woolbright does not speak for the entire School Board. In fact, the only board member who is permitted to speak on behalf of the school board is our current Chair, Mr. Trevor Tucker. While I firmly believe that Ms. Woolbright is entitled to freely voice her opinion on district issues, I also believe she crossed the line when she filed a criminal complaint against the Flagler Schools’ Superintendent and Attorney with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for permitting books that she believes to be pornographic to be available to middle and high school students. By failing to allow for the investigative process to unfold, she bypassed established District policies and procedures.
Everyone knows the wheels of justice turn slowly, and that is for a purpose – to avoid mistakes and knee jerk reactions. I believe that by not permitting the district administrative team time to conduct a thorough investigation, Ms. Woolbright committed a grave mistake, and one that borders on a potential ethics violation. As I stated earlier, Ms. Woolbright is entitled to her opinion; however, she is not entitled to throw the other School Board members and District Administrators under the bus, based on her personal opinions. Effective school boards must operate as a team, compromise, and often must agree to disagree. Ms. Woolbright has demonstrated that she is not a team player, nor does she allow for the proper course of action to occur.
Ms. Woolbright is advocating for the removal of a number of books from the School District’s media centers based on her perception of their content. Let me make this abundantly clear – I do not support censorship of these highly acclaimed and award-winning teen books! The beauty of books lies within the eyes of the beholder. In 1982, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in the Island Trees School District v, Pico by Pico, 457 U.S. 853: The First Amendment imposes limitations upon a local school board’s exercise of its discretion to remove books from high school and junior high school libraries. Pp. 457 U.S. 863-872. Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school house gates.
In closing, I believe no one said it better than Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of Speak, an award-winning teen book that deals with teenage rape, depression and domestic violence, and is one of the books on Ms. Woolbright’s proposed, banned book list. Ms. Anderson stated: “Censoring books with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.”
Cheryl Massaro was elected to the Flagler County School Board to a four-year term in November 2020. Jill Woolbright was elected to a two-year term, to complete the term of Andy Dance, who resigned in a run for the County Commission.