Flagler County School Board Chair Cheryl Massaro said fellow Board member Sally Hunt considered calling for a vote of censure against her because Massaro did not stick to a script provided her before last week’s press conference denouncing Bunnell Elementary’s segregated assembly days earlier.
It is only one in a series of new, problematic revelations about certain school board members or by the board as a whole that unfolded that day: the board did not hold one huddle out of sunshine, but two, and Hunt at one point, out of sunshine, attempted to beg off some of her responsibilities and convince Board member Will Furry to take her place. Massaro did not allow that discussion, as it was out of sunshine.
The post-conference closed-door meeting was reported here last week. But the press conference was preceded by another meeting in the same room, where the board discussed the script and the procedures ahead, according to Massaro and Board attorney Kristy Gavin. Gavin took part in the first huddle, but was not aware of the second until alerted by a reporter.
Gavin had drafted the script that Massaro would speak at the press conference, and circulated it to the board members beforehand to get their approval. “There was discussion that this was the board’s position, yes,” Gavin said of that first huddle. “Because, again, the chair speaks on behalf of the board, right? And so they were being provided–this is the board’s position on this matter, and we wanted to make sure every board member was in agreement with that position. It’s the board’s position, not Cheryl’s position, not my position, the board’s position. So while I drafted it, I made sure that the board members are comfortable with the statements that were made within it.”
Gavin said there was no violation of sunshine because “it was my communication with them. I asked, I handed it to each of them and I said, this is what I’m going to be providing to miss Massaro; do you have an issue with this? And they read it and they said yes or no to me, So that I could then notify Miss Massaro: This is the statement for the board.”
But Gavin was describing what is usually called polling–soliciting opinions from each of the board members in order to convey it to one among them as the board’s collective work, all outside of a public meeting. Polling is not permissible, as an Attorney General opinion makes clear: “The courts and this office have also stated that the Sunshine Law is applicable to meetings between a board member and an individual who is not a member of the board when that individual is being used as a liaison between, or to conduct a de facto meeting of, board members,” the opinion reads.
It so happened that those individual interactions took place with all board members present (Massaro arrived late and was handed the script), and in the context of them discussing the press conference’s procedure. “Kristy handed out the script to everybody and they were going through the procedures,” Massaro said. (She noted that the door to the room was open.) “They just organized and went in.”
At the press conference, with four members of the school board and Interim Superintendent LaShakia Moore arrayed around her, Massaro made clear that she had been handed the script shortly before, and made just as clear that she would not necessarily stick to it throughout: “They gave me a script, I’m going to read it, but you’re going to hear a little bit from me too at the same time,” she told reporters and others in the room, making the distinction between what she was saying for the board, and what she was saying as an individual.
Massaro then said how the district “does not in any way, support the activity that took place at Bunnell Elementary School” (where last month Black students herded into an assembly were told they were a problem and threatened with early graves if they did not raise their scores) and offered an official apology. That was part of the script.
She then went “off script” with these words: “Flagger School Board does not support segregation. It hasn’t. Not this group, not for many, many, many years. So please understand, yes, a horrible horrific mistake was made. This district will do all that it can to get us back on track.”
There was nothing objectionable in what she said–nothing any school member could logically, morally object to. But Hunt did, because the words weren’t part of the script, and started talking of censure. Hunt brought up the matter with Gavin. Gavin relayed it to Massaro. “She called me and told me what Ms. Hunt wanted to do,” Massaro said. “She wanted to censure me at the school board meeting, and I’m like, this is ridiculous.” (Hunt long ago stopped returning calls or texts, and emails to her trigger an automatic message requesting that “feedback” be submitted through a school district portal, not to her personally.)
“Having a script is wonderful and I don’t mind reading it, but it’s important for people to hear from us, from the heart,” Massaro said.
The School Board has a procedure that calls on the chair to speak for the board, when the chair does so officially. The procedure does not preclude individual board members, including the chair, from also speaking as individuals, with that distinction made: any prohibition on that would be unconstitutional, since elected board members don’t leave their rights at the door. This particular board, however, has had a checkered relationship with that right. Furry and Board member Christy Chong, for instance, who have no qualms expressing themselves on school matters on Facebook, last April sought to censure Massaro for doing the same. Their motion failed, with Hunt, that time, opposed.
Gavin said Hunt–who has repeatedly signaled to district officials that she was looking to sell her house and move out of the district, which would lead to her resignation–had been “really unhappy” with Massaro’s going off script, but that a censure vote is “not something she’s actually looking at doing. It was really more–Cheryl, you need to think about, when you’re speaking on behalf of the board, it can lead to somebody wanting censureship.” Gavin said speaking individually is not an issue, but “which part of that was the prepared statement and which was her speaking from her heart?” Gavin added: ” I had consensus that what was drafted was what the board was comfortable with, that they were fine. And if they were asked to give a statement, that would be a part of their statement.”
That day same day, in an unrelated matter but in the same back room–in the second meeting the board had, out of sunshine–Hunt also attempted to pull out of a joint government meeting she was supposed to attend in the afternoon, and asked Board member Will Furry to take her place, even though those assignments had been made (in an open meeting).
Massaro in that case shut her down, saying if she wanted out of that responsibility, she could bring it up at the appropriate time. Hunt then stormed out. Gavin was not in the room. “If it would have happened, I would not have been allowing that to happen, so there wouldn’t ever been any of that conversation,” Gavin said.
Meanwhile, the district’s investigation into the segregated assembly at Bunnell Elementary, which had been close to being complete, has not yet closed, Gavin said, but will likely be completed by next week.