Last Updated: 1:19 p.m.
Since Nov. 9, at two public board meetings, in a criminal complaint and in discussions with constituents, Flagler County School Board member Jill Woolbright has been accusing the district administration of perpetrating a “crime” by having enabled All Boys Aren’t Blue, a memoir of growing up Black and gay, in school libraries. The criminal complaint named Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt and Board attorney Kristy Gavin, and went further: “I made it clear I wanted whoever was responsible for putting those books in our Media Centers held accountable for this crime committed on our children.”
Circumventing policy, which requires that a person challenging a title start at the school level, Woolbright–a 64-year-old resident of Angela Drive in Palm Coast and a retired schoolteacher–demanded of the superintendent that the book be immediately pulled and reviewed, along with three others. Publicly, she falsely claimed that she only wanted the one book banned and three others “reviewed.” In fact, in her handwritten statement to the Sheriff’s Office, she said she ordered “all young adult books checked,” albeit without citing titles. There are tens of thousands of such titles on library shelves.
This morning, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office said it found no grounds for a criminal inquiry, as no crimes had been committed, and dismissed claims that Woolbright faced any immediate threat, as she and a reporter for the Epoch Times–a publication that has drawn attention for disseminating conspiracy theories and disinformation–had claimed.
A key section of the sheriff’s general counsel’s interpretation, the section that a district committee reviewing the book may found most salient to its own analysis, concludes with a clear defense of the book as legally permissible work that is not “harmful to minors.”
“While a portion of the book may be sexual in nature and offensive to some within the community,” John LeMaster, the sheriff’s general counsel wrote, “it fails the third prong of the test” laid out in state law. “Specifically, the third prong requires when taken as a whole, [that the book] be without serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors. This book is a widely recognized award winning piece of nonfiction which deals with difficult subjects of both social and political issues impacting this age group. The book is readily available online and in public libraries. This book does not meet the legal definition of harmful to minors.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s conclusion was the result of a preliminary inquiry–not a criminal investigation–by the sheriff’s investigative division and an analysis by its general counsel, neither of whom found irregularities in the book’s availability or the means through which schools purchased it and made it available. LeMaster refuted an explosive claim by both Woolbright and fellow Board member Janet McDonald that the book criminally violated state law by amounting to “pornography” in the hands of children. The matter “is not a violation” of law, LeMaster condcluded, “and does not warrant further investigation. Whether or not this material is appropriate for students of Flagler County is an internal matter for the BOard and is best addressed through their processes.”
Those processes, which Woolbright flouted with the criminal complaint, are, in fact, ongoing: Lashakia Moore, the district’s director of curriculum, has assembled a district-level committee that is reading four titles and will render a recommendation to the superintendent as to their appropriateness for school library shelves. The decision is expected after Thanksgiving.
“The Sheriff’s Office does not determine what material is appropriate for the students of Flagler County,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a statement. Staly had made clear in an interview and email to FlaglerLive this week that he was displeased with having his agency “dragged” into what he said should have remained a district matter. “The Flagler County School Board has the constitutional duty and responsibility to determine the content of all materials used in the classroom and made available in the school library. The Board is responsible for developing proper policies and procedures to evaluate and purchase these materials. The Board’s policies and practices permitted the purchase and circulation of the book in question.”
There was little question that Woolbright’s criminal complaint was frivolous and intended for shock and political manipulation: no such complaint had ever been filed against a school board member’s own district leadership in the context of a book challenge, and nowhere in the nation since the publication of George W. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue had the book ‘s availability faced anything like the shadow of a criminal charge.
Rather, the book has been widely acclaimed, from The New York Times on down to Publisher’s Weekly, People Magazine, numerous major public libraries and other outlets–accolades Woolbright and McDonald discredited as invalid, as if to say that their judgment was more accurate and reliable. Woolbright claims to have read parts of All Boys Aren’t Blue. McDonald did not make that claim.
The investigation was chiefly conducted by detective Cpl. Augustin Rodriguez. It reveals that Stephen Weldon Hageman, a 42-year-old resident of Secretary Trail in Palm Coast, and Patricia Tolson, a 62-year-old resident of Spring Hill on Florida’s West Coast, and a reporter for the Epoch Times, had both filed reports as well. Hageman had read on FlaglerLive that the site was donating 15 copies of All Boys Aren’t Blue for free distribution through a Flagler Palm Coast High School student. Hageman, the report states, said “he was concerned that the books are being provided directly to a student to give to fellow students,” which is accurate, and that “he believes the book to be a form of pornography that should not be in the hands of juveniles,” which is not accurate. Some people addressing the school board Tuesday made similar false claims.
Tolson relayed tweets she’d read to the Sheriff’s Office, claiming they “made her concerned for the safety of Woolbright, and the citizens of Flagler County.” The screen shots included in the investigative report show one tweet noting the offer of book donations from Dave’s Lesbian Bar in Astoria, N.Y., and another is Johnson’s reference to the criminal report filed about his book. Additional screen shots show further references to book donations and the rally organized by Jack Petocz, the Flagler Palm Coast High School student who coordinated the donations, and a tweet from Johnson responding to another tweeter with “Finish her!,” a line he explained in a video statement to the Flagler County School Board: “On Twitter, I responded to a journalist by saying ‘finis her.’ As a former journalist, I have finished people with my words many many times, as I’m doing here today on this video. The only thing inciting violence is involving the police against a Black queer story, when we know that police involvement has led to the detriment of my community many times over.”
“After reading the messages and conversations in context, it does not appear that there is an immediate threat to Woolbright or the school board members,” the inquiry found.
Rodriguez reviewed state law, examined the book’s standing in the marketplace (the book is now a “#1 Best Seller in the section ‘Teen & Young Adult LGBTQ+ Issues”) and its stated purpose before consulting with LeMaster. LeMaster made clear in his memo he had no intention of correcting or suggesting changes to the school board’s policies, as it was not the agency’s place to do so. District policy itself, his memo noted, defers to district committees to make determinations about the appropriateness of books.
“During the fact finding there was no evidence which would suggest the book was purchased outside the normal procedures or procurement processes established by the Board. As such the material purchased by School Board employees was completed at the direction and under the governance of the Board and its policies,” LeMaster found.
LeMaster noted the board’s policies for don’t define “hardcore pornography” and constitute “administrative guidance,” and so cannot be used to interpret the criminal statute–nor used to determine whether anyone in the district “knowingly” provided harmful materials to minors. (Even the U.S. Supreme Court has found a definition of pornography difficult, resulting in one of the court’s most famous lines, written by Justice Potter Stewart in a 1964 case about the alleged pornography of a movie. The movie house where it was shown had drawn criminal charges and a conviction. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction. “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description,” Stewart wrote of the word pornography, “and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”)
LeMaster then provided the analysis that showed how the book does not meet the definition of “harmful to minors” either Woolbright of McDonald claimed it did.
“Therefore,” Augustin’s 22-page report concludes, “the case requires no further investigation and is closed due to the lack of criminal activity.” The full report appears below.
The full investigative report:
Click to access 100272-Inves-Summary-1.pdf
Concerned Citizen says
Woolbright owes her boss an apology. She owes the school board an Apology. FCSO an apology. And us the tax payers an apology. Because she tried to break the rules to impose HER will.
If she had followed the rules and acted accordingly we wouldn’t be here.
Appears that she is the marionette for her marionettist!
This was a real “Cather in the Rye” for the Sherriff.
Merrill S Shapiro says
Again, I believe the most recent of Woolbright’s actions underscore the contention that this is NOT about pornography, obscenity, etc. This is all about control, controlling the minds of our young people and imposing Woolbright’s and McDonald’s religious sensibilities on our entire Flagler County School system.
First comes book banning then comes an attack on the free press. Thanks Sheriff for stopping this in its tracks.
Is this an example of Republican “small government”? Now they want the government to scrutinize what we are reading? Your assignment today is to read Fahrenheit 451. Let’s just get rid of books – poof no more dangerous ideas!
If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything. Thank you, Mrs. Wool right for doing what is in your power to protect our children’s innocent minds from rubbish.
And since you have obviously read the book, would you please enlighten the rest of us as to the issues you have with this book? Please feel free to use quotations as necessary to demonstrate the ‘rubbish’ contained therein, I am sure the author would not object.
Concerned Citizen says
Again people are missing the point.
She DIDN’T have the power to do what she did in the first place. She blatantly broke rules to impose her will. Then she went to far trying to involve FCSO in an attempt to get co-workers arrested.
Now I want to know where is her accountability.
I entertained a number of ideas this morning, but nothing felt right. Child abuse? Nah. Negligence? Not really, required too many leaps. Child endangerment? Possibly, but requires some mental gymnastics that requires a handful of ‘ifs’ and sticking the landing (unless of course there’s such a thing as attempted endangerment, then vault away).
Unfortunately the only thing I think she is truly guilty of is being a canker on the ass if progress.
If someone would please let Miss Woolbright know that Chick-fil-A is likely hiring. It would probably be easier for her to experience success in that type of environment as her antiquated ideals are more in line with that corporation’s bigoted views.
Or Hobby Lobby.
Deborah Coffey says
Good idea. And, her accountability should require a period of psychiatric care. She is certainly unfit for the job that she is in.
Woolbright and McDonald need to be removed from Board of Education, we are sick and tired of reading their names in Flagler Live or on the news stations.
Woolbright wasted taxpayers monies calling in FCSO like they don’t have more important things to do. If you appoint adults on a school board you would think they would be able to handle their own issues without being drama queens and getting everyone else involved.
These two constantly are very poor examples for the students in Flagler County. Enough.
yup Dave, Looney Tunes are alive on the schoolboard
I feel for FCSO on being placed in that position, but the reality is, this was a punt.
Michael Cocchiola says
Kudos to the FCSO. It is shameful enough for Jill Woolbright to have filed a criminal complaint. It would have been incomprehensible for FCSO to allow this frivolous complaint to go anywhere but the trash can.
Woolbright and McDonald will continue to wage war on knowledge because they are complicit followers of the national hate group Moms For Liberty. They are just indoctrinated soldiers fighting another lost cause. They must go in 2022.
Waving on Westerlee says
When will this end? Instead of the Palm Coast community being renowned and valued for it’s beautiful properties, local government, great schools, and coastal beauty we’ve got CNN dragging us as having crazy politicians and an overbearing school board. Can you drive past any of our schools without seeing more than one Sherrif’s vehicle parked prominently out front? Kids getting walked out of middle school in handcuffs. This isn’t helping raise property values here folks. It’s turning Palm Coast into the new north of Mondex.
Broke WHAT rules? Nobody is owed an apology here, except maybe the parents of these kids. Members of this School Board are doing their jobs, they are responding to complaints from parents. The Sheriff did his job. These types of complaints are not unusual and these parents have the right to decide whether or not these books are available to their children. This is a situation where the Sunshine Laws actually hurt the ability of this entire board to function. If they could sit down and work through this privately, none of this would have blown up.
All the drama, and the personal attacks here are unnecessary. These poor kids. Back off and allow this School Board to work through this without all the politicizing. If you disagree, that’s what Elections are for.
Concerned Citizen says
As mentioned in numerous articles. There are rules and procedures in place for having books reviewed for removal. She circumvented those rules. She then went one step to far by involving FCSO and trying to prosecute her co-workers. So yeah she owes some apolagies for the trouble she caused. And she better consider herself lucky that her co-workers don’t sue her for the frivelous criminal complaint.
If the books had been reviewed properly then removed we wouldn’t be here. Yet again another Flagler County official tried to misuse their power. And got caught. But sadly nothing will be done about it.
You will disagree because you support her. But in the private work sector if we caused this much trouble along with a hostile work environment we would no longer be employed.
I support the system. Allow the School Board to do the job which you elected them to do, please.
Concerned Citizen says
As long as they follow the rules.
We have to follow the rules out here to keep our jobs. I guess it’s different on that level. And I never voted for your best buddy or her side crony McDonald.
Percy's mother says
One would expect a written, verbal and video apology will be issued by Jill Woolbright, not only to the school board but to the citizens of Flagler County. However, I won’t hold my breath. It takes a big person to admit being in the wrong. I don’t think she or her “group” of subversives has/have any redeeming qualities, and certainly not to the extent of admitting being in the wrong (yet again).
They are both Trumpster, apology is not in their vocabulary. They have been brain washed, I wonder if school board health-care covers lobotomy?
I know her term is almost over, but Flagler should definitely petition to have her recalled. At the very least I would hope she doesn’t get re-elected.
She’s clearly shown she’s willing to abuse her power to get her way and the only thing she is fighting is free thought.
Funny, I thought her crowd was all about freedoms and the first amendment… or is that only when it suits their agenda?
Her close mindedness and fear of free thought is bringing radicalized white men in military tactical gear to our city. Those are her people. The same grown men and women who threatened to rape and kill TEENAGE protesters at our government building. But a book about a black gay man is too graphic?
When is enough enough?
It’s definitely time to get the hell out of the Bible belt before this turns into a handmaid‘s tale.
Good job for kicking this down. Get ready for another punch from another white person.
Dedicated American says
It really amazes me when I read the comments on this site, all the same negatives that have no idea as to what is really going on with the subject but to bad mouth the people that uphold the first amendment, in case you did not know is one of OUR BILL OF RIGHTS to our CONSTITUTION. Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright, thank GOD, are looking after our young elementary school children regarding books that have absolutely no place in the elementary school or for that matter high school library. If parents want their children to be exposed to sexual information it should be their choice, in their home. These books have absolutely no place in our schools. I commend Janet and Jill and every parent standing up to this problem for our children. On the contrary to the responders that want sexually explicit books in our library, Janet and Jill will be RE-ELECTED next time.
Concerned Citizen says
It really amazes me at how many are missing the point.
If a book has inappropriate content then I have no problem with it being properly reviewed then removed. And perhaps replaced with something different?
My issue lies in the fact that she broke rules in place to handle this type of situation. Then went on to utilize FCSO and file criminal complaints against the Superintendent and others. For what reason? And what did she hope to accomplish by having the Superintendent arrested? And now she has tied up all this time and FCSO’s time as well. Where is the accountability for that?
Time and time again we keep seeing these elected officials doing everything but their jobs. And continue to break rules. And yet never any accountability. Man I need a sweet gig like that.
Hopefully I am the only one confused by your convoluted first sentence. As for upholding the First Amendment, neither Woolbright not McDonald are upholding said amendment. If anything, they are violating it by attempting to stifle an author and not following the due process as required by the school boards rules. The involvement of the FCSO was nothing but a grandstanding attempt to garner public support for Woolbright’s self-appointed mission to purge the school of she perceives as pornography. She has yet to disclose how many people if any, supported her unfounded demands.
If Woolbright had followed the school board policies, she would have been politely told to pound sand. Since she decided to flaunt the rules, her comeuppance will be more public.
The dude says
It’s not up to you or those two old hags on the School Board to decide what I allow my child to read.
Those morons on the school board need to do the actual job they were elected to do and make the damn school buses run on time.
@ flaglerlive: remember when woolbright and mullins hung out in the capital at the Capitol? Whatever came of that? Has to be some sort of breach of etiquette. I have the picture of their smiling faces.
It’s a national embarrassment to be a resident of Flagler County. What a joke of a County. The last place to raise a child. Daily death threats and constant bomb and gun threats at the school. Residents calling for burning of books and teachers like Ripley beating on handicapped students. This place is horrible.
C’mon man says
I should write a book about the 3 little bears getting down a s dirty with Goldilocks and put it in elementary schools
Why is that the people who think teenagers can be trusted with guns don’t think they can be trusted with books?
Thats profound and you would be right. The Party of HYPOCRISY
Sad, I look at the picture of the school board members heading this article and my stomach turns. The children and families in this town deserve better.