Last Updated: Friday, 10:13 a.m. with Jill Woolbright interview and McDonald’s third attempt for a special meeting.
In the 48 hours since one of the ugliest Flagler County School Board meetings in memory, School Board member Janet McDonald sought what would have been an unlawful a closed-door meeting in an apparent attempt to fire Board Attorney Kristy Gavin. She solicited all the district’s agreements with the county Health Department, a relationship she wants severed, though four other board members rejected going down that road. Two board members called McDonald’s moves a “witch hunt.” One of them call McDonald “a threat to the safety and well being of all the Flagler School Board members as well as a deterrent to our mission” and proposed that McDonald be censured.
There’s been an underlying rift at the school board going back to the latter part of former Superintendent Jim Tager’s tenure, when LGBT issues came to the fore. The rift was un-mended with the hiring of Cathy Mittelstadt, Tager’s successor–a hire McDonald opposed. The covid crisis at first papered over the rift, only to aggravate it as masking and covid-safety issues became more pronounced during the current surge especially. The rift exploded in full view Tuesday, like a fuse to the crowd’s own deep polarization and mutual hostilities. McDonald, always a covid-denier, seemed buoyed by a crowd largely and loudly sympathetic to a defiance she mirrored, and carried on in the next 48 hours as if powered by pious vigor to keep crusading.
Her colleagues’ reaction was blunt and swift. But the rift is far from over: McDonald is nether the conciliatory nor the consensus type, giving her slow-burn tenacity an unpredictable edge that always seems to mutate for another day. The last 48 hours, in other words, may be mere prelude to the next 20 months (McDonald is up for re-election in 2022).
It isn’t clear how McDonald, who has been on the school board for over six years, serving as its chair for two, was still not aware of the unlawful nature of her request for a closed meeting. It is not legal under Florida law to hold closed-door meetings to review any employee’s contract. The only exceptions for closed-door meetings are when the board discusses student disciplinary matters that fall under privacy laws, school security matters, and strategy discussions regarding pending litigation or ongoing union negotiations. One school board member alone may not call a meeting, either. Only the superintendent may call a special meeting, either at the superintendent’s own behest or on request from the board chair or a majority of the board.
“I have an attorney who is willing to serve as legal counsel for this one session,” McDonald had written just before 4 p.m. Wednesday when calling for the closed-door session. She did not name the “legal counsel” nor explain the counsel’s purpose. It would also be irregular, if not illegal, for one board member to bring an attorney other than the school board’s–a move echoing that pulled at canvassing board meetings by Kimberle Weeks, the former Flagler County Elections Supervisor convicted of numerous felonies stemming from her flouting of laws on the job.
Trevor Tucker, the even-tempered chairman of the school board–his distaste for frills and drama are in proportion to his deference to rules and process–sharply corrected McDonald on the illegality of the sort of closed-door meeting she was seeking. “Please do not respond to this email,” he noted in his reply.
McDonald wasn’t done. Stirred by a four-page “open letter to the board” by Grit Ellis, the Realtor and girlfriend of Alan Lowe–the two-time losing and incendiary candidate for Palm Coast mayor, and who was at Tuesday’s school board meeting–then pursued “by whatever means,” in her words, any kind of board meeting, “a retreat, or whatever you call it,” to discuss the nature of Tuesday’s meeting. McDonald didn’t elaborate on the meeting’s purpose in her email to the attorney. But she did so in an obsequious email to Ellis, agreeing with the Realtor’s assessments and calling them “a very detailed guide that I trust will help organize our reflections and correct our practices.”
Ellis had called for an investigation of Gavin’s role at the meeting, falsely accusing Gavin of “the creation of mayhem and chaos,” terms that more accurately describe the crowd’s behavior. Ellis also falsely claimed Gavin interrupted the meeting “without adherence to any rules,” among other mischaracterization: the rules Gavin enforced, including the ban on clapping, were promulgated during McDonald’s chairmanship of the board, in early 2020, largely at McDonald’s direction and in response to heated meetings over LGBTQ issues when, unlike on Tuesday, McDonald was not waving her hands in the air in support of LGBTQ students and their families. At a meeting last June McDonald, wielding those very rules, outright shut down a speaker who was being critical of her and stopped him from completing his remarks. (The full statement was later published here.)
Woolbright did not respond to any of the emails. She said Friday she had no issues either with Gavin or the district’s agreements with the Health Department, and wasn’t going to criticize either. “I don’t want to undermine the work of the district,” Woolbright said. “I’m not going to style my position and my authority to publicly question [the administration] if I can at all help it, there’s ways to do that. I just feel like I’m caught between two bickering school board members and I just wish they would stop.”
Tucker saw no need for any special meetings or workshops, and said in an interview he agreed with the way Gavin handled Tuesday’s meeting.
“Kristy is the parliamentarian or the sergeant at arms, that’s her designation as the school board attorney,” Tucker said. “With that, she has the right to act if decorum is not being maintained, that’s one of the sergeant at arms’ responsibilities.” Gavin’s role as parliamentarian is in her job description.
“Her job,” Board member Cheryl Massaro said of Gavin, “is to protect the district legally in all aspects as well as being the person to protect the school board, enact rules and regulations set by the school board, which that was her duty at that particular time.”
Late Thursday–31 minutes after this article published–McDonald was at it again, this time skirting close to, if not committing, a Sunshine law violation, by addressing Tucker directly in an email, despite Tucker’s admonition earlier not to respond. “I request a special meeting of the FCSB members to review board policies and procedures, following the deficiencies in procedures and policies that occurred on Tuesday 8/17/21,” she wrote, without explaining what the alleged deficiencies were. She wanted the meeting to “review duties of the attorney noted in attorney contract, due to expire in June 2022. I do have an attorney with more than 20 years of board and agency counsel experience to consult, pro bono, to monitor/guide the conversation if need be.” Tucker did not respond. There will be no meeting until the board meets again in a scheduled, open session, when McDonald can bring up her issue and see if she has a three-vote majority to call a workshop, Tucker said.
McDonald doesn’t have the votes.
Tucker has no issues with Gavin’s role as the board’s attorney, nor has Woolbright (“I have no issues with the attorney absolutely none, I have a great rel with the attorney,” Woolbright said Friday). The only other person authorized to call a workshop or a meeting is the superintendent. In this case, Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt deferred to Tucker. A “Master Board” retreat is scheduled in September, where board members are guided through best practices through a Florida School Board Association program. Tucker suggested some of McDonald’s issues with rules could be brought up then.
Within minutes of McDonald’s original call for the “executive session” Board member Colleen Conklin had immediately replied: “No–thank you. I will NOT be attending.” When McDonald persisted with the request of a meeting “by whatever means PLEASE,” as she put it in the subject lijne of an email that again went to all board members, it appears Conklin had had enough. “I will not be attending whatever we want to call this,” Conklin wrote Gavin early this morning in an email that also went to all board members. “I will not participate in any form or fashion of this witch hunt. I’m over the nonsense and the drama. I do NOT wish to receive any additional emails from Mrs. McDonald and request all communications go through you or the Superintendent.” (McDonald in the past has used her school board email account liberally to disseminate the sort of misinformation about covid and vaccines that, had it been disseminated by physician, could cost his or her medical license.)
Massaro closer to midday today, in an email limited to the superintendent and Gavin, wrote: “I will not entertain participation in any of Ms. McDonald’s witch hunts,” before listing McDonald’s various targets and objecting to her behavior at the meeting: “Not only did she totally ignore our Chair’s request to leave the meeting, but also ignored the direction of Law Enforcement! A safety issue response that put every individual in harm’s way, and should have never happened!”
In an interview about details of the evening not broadly known until now, Massaro said: “When law enforcement tells you to do something, you do it, because you’re not only risking your safety but that of everybody else in that room.” Some deputies were reportedly livid at the board members’ flouting their requests. “We had two school resource officers on duty. One of the SROs’ job is to keep the school board safe. When they had to clear the room, the first thing he did was, our chair had to delay the meeting, he told the chair to get all five board members into the back room immediately.” Tucker spoke to each board member in turn, Massaro recalled, and several administrators joined most of the board members in a back room. “We had no idea what was gonna happen,” Massaro continued. “Then we hear Ms. Woolbright on the loudspeaker trying to calm the group, and she came in [the back room] because they weren’t listening to her. Then Ms. McDonald started to do her little thing, trying to get people under control, and our SRO was telling her in no uncertain terms she needed to go in the back, because they needed to clear the room. That’s when it became dangerous, because she wasn’t listening.”
“I didn’t know that the police officers had asked us to leave the room, I was trying to help,” Woolbright said in an interview Friday morning. “I didn’t hear the direction from the police officer, and when I did, I left.”
Massaro contended that many in the audience, including some from out of town, were encouraged to attend by McDonald “for the sole purpose of disruption.” (There unquestionably was a social media campaign to draw anti-maskers and people responding to the mostly fabricated Indian Trails issue, but if McDonald had a role in it, there was no evidence of it in her public emails in the 72 hours leading to the meeting.) Massaro concluded: “I personally have determined that Ms. McDonald is a threat to the safety and well being of all the Flagler School Board members as well as a deterrent to our mission at hand to promote the safety, well being, and education of every Flagler County Child, and needs to be disciplined and even censured.”
McDonald had Gavin in her sights even before the evening meeting. The board on Tuesday had held a less eventful workshop at 1 p.m. At the end of the workshop, McDonald called for a workshop to examine Gavin’s evaluation process and have it focus on “where her time is spent.” She did not explain what had prompted the need for a review. No board member had deemed such a review necessary in the 11 years Gavin has been the district’s in-house counsel. “Just like any other attorney, they have billable hours, so where’s the time needed by the district. What’s taking her time, what’s our focus,” McDonald said, suggesting “outside counsel” for certain areas. Gavin already produces a bi-annual report on her department’s work, which may go to a quarterly report. When Tucker asked if anyone else was interested in a workshop on Gavin’s tasks, no one other than McDonald was. He moved on to other business and soon adjourned.
Then came the evening meeting.
Public comment took up most of the first 90 minutes of the four-hour meeting. Most of the comments were for or against the re-imposition of a mask mandate as a covid-safety procedure in schools. No such mandate exists, in compliance with the governor’s executive order. Or they were about the largely exaggerated or false characterizations of the way a student required to quarantine was treated at Indian Trails Middle School. A sizeable audience repeatedly flouted the no-clapping rule despite requests, then warnings, by Tucker (twice) and more pointedly by Gavin (several times), that the room would be cleared if clapping or incivility continued. It continued, though the final straw was not clapping.
“When I adjourned the meeting, Gavin said this evening, “it was not due to clapping. It was because the speaker who had just completed speaking, disparaging comments were being made as that individual was leaving the podium.” Gavin referred back to Tucker’s warning: “The board chair had said, We will entertain public comment, as long as it can be conducted civilly with decorum. They violated.”
Gavin directed that the room be cleared at the 90-minute mark. Dozens of people refused to leave. Even after the board members had been directed by sheriff’s deputies to go to a back room for their safety, McDonald and Woolbright remained on the dais, parlaying with those protesting the order to leave the room even as tension mounted, and Woolbright left when told by a deputy to go to a back room. McDonald did not. (McDonald did not return a call.)
“We have rules. We have procedures, and we have protocols,” Gavin said. “Particularly when it’s a school board and we’re trying to model for the students that there are rules, and that there are procedures in the classroom. If you want to be acknowledged, you raise your hand, you don’t blurt it out. That’s the rule, we follow that rule. Likewise, our board meetings are a model of how we are to respond in society if we have a rule that says, there is no cheering–and it’s during public comment. That is when it is set forth. That is when they are not to do it.” That, anyway, is the rule the board adopted, is operating under and has tasked Gavin to enforce. The rules can change, she said.
I was there and spoke at that meeting. I filmed McDonald schmoozing with the unruly crowd. Her behavior was disgusting and I knew right then and there that if she had left the dais the room would have cleared. She encouraged these cretins to stay and continue to speak their minds “even if it’s not on record.” She is solely the reason the room wasn’t cleared immediately. The way Ms. Massaro characterized her behavior is spot on. One person in the unruly crowd screamed that the board members were going to be fired. Then he pointed at McDonald and shouted “Not you! We know you!” Some in the crowd brought their young children and had them hold signs saying that Covid is a hoax. The children were witness to the behavior of the adults. And folks, make no mistake, this is the reason we have so many disciplinary issues in our schools. It’s modeled at home by parents who teach them to behave like this if they don’t get their way. This meeting was horrible. I don’t envy the respectable school board members for what they have to endure from the public. Two board members need to go NOW.
Conc Citizen says
Seems to me that McDonald Sb fired.
Percy's mother says
You cannot “FIRE” an elected official.
That’s why elections and votes count.
Matanzas Mom says
HUGE thanks to Board members Cheryl Massaro, Colleen Conklin, and Trevor Tucker and to Attorney Kristy Gavin for keeping the School Board work and mission in the forefront. Shame on the other two Board members for their words, actions, and failure to follow the established rules. Shout out to the deputies for securing the Chambers and protecting our school officials. Thank you.
Percy's mother says
As mentioned in my previous post from a few days ago, JILL WOOLBRIGHT, is aligned with Janet McDonald.
Woolbright has hidden her political leanings pretty well up to this point, and certainly never spoke about her political leanings when running for school board last year. So in addition to everything else, she is disingenuous aka dishonest not to mention dangerous.
I’m glad Woolbright is retired from teaching. I wouldn’t want her teaching my children.
I am certainly very unhappy that Woolbright is representing Flagler Schools as a far right school board member.
Percy's mother says
Who the hell is GRIT ELLIS? She’s a nothing. A nobody. Her only claim to fame is being a “realtor” and for being Alan Lowe’s continual girlfriend. She’s done nothing with her life. She doesn’t know anything.
I’m thinking a formal complaint needs to be lodged against GRIT ELLIS with the DBPR and the State of Florida Board of Realtors for her subversive activities here in Flagler County.
What is this nobody “realtor” doing penning a 4-page letter to a school board member in an effort to subvert the attorney (Gavin) overseeing the school board?
Formal complaint now against GRIT ELLIS.
Palm Coast Citizen says
Grit Ellis has the same right as any other member of this community to voice her opinion. Would you mae a formal complaint to the business of every person who does so?
Tired of this says
It is not Ellis who is at fault here. It is McDonald who we should be looking to get rid of. The McDonalds are a stain on our community. Vote her out!!
Grits Ellis is Alan Lowe’s new mouthpiece. These two were in the back of the room coordinating. I guess they will try to prop Grits up, now that Alan has been rejected by voters, twice.
If I’m not mistaken only the Governor can remove her, and that is not going to happen with DeSantis.
Majority is heard thank you to the judge. Is time that we the silent majority is also heard. We do not auto rally, attack congress, scream or intimidate we just ask with civility and observing rules of conduct. Students need health protection and virus prevention. https://www.newsbreak.com/news/2346751589600/pro-mask-pa… See More
Pro-mask parents win a round vs. DeSantis in Florida’s school mask battle – NewsBreak
Pro-mask parents win a round vs. DeSantis in Florida’s school mask battle – NewsBreak
Mike Cocchiola says
You get who you vote for. We could have had Carl Jones instead of Janet McDonald and Vince Lyon instead of Jill Woolbright. Both Carl and Vince are calm, cautious, civil, and thoughtful. These are traits that would have served so well on the school board and as prime examples to parents and students of how to lead and work collegially as a team.
Flagler chose chaos in 2018. We have a do-over in 2022. Vote well.
Kim Pandich-Gridley says
You’re right, Mike. We could have had Carl Jones or John Fischer, may he Rest In Peace. Janet and Dennis McDonald are two of the worst people I’ve ever known. No, DeSantis probably won’t remove Janet, but that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be censored by the rest of the school board. Dennis should be blocked from holding any government position until he pays the fines he owes the county. The McDonald’s are power hungry pieces of crap and the sooner we force them back under the rock from which they crawled, the better our county will be.
G A says
You elect clowns you get a circus. While McDonald and Woolbright may have left their costumes elsewhere their actions expose them. We see you for what you are
Cheryl Massaro: I am so happy that I voted for you. If only your dedication (and that of Ms. Conklin) would be absorbed via magical osmosis by the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb of the Board, perhaps something important could be accomplished instead of wasting HOURS of your time with foolish political games.
And as “Disgusted” stated above, it is absolutely appalling that “parents” are bringing along impressionable children to these meetings and acting like it is a Coliseum battle to the death. No decorum, no civility, no protocol … just loud mouths with words often unfounded in fact. As a military (retired) spouse for nearly 25 years I have lived in several states and dealt with many school districts. This one, by far, is the most dysfunctional and embarrassing I’ve ever encountered. I am so glad my children are not school aged any more!
Keep politics out of the school system!
Please look at the video, Colleen Conklin did not leave the meeting either. She can be seen standing on the podium until the screen goes blank for the “break”.
Roy Longo says
Glad to hear members of the school board have some backbone. If only Mullins sidekicks stood up to him with those same convictions.
Janet wishes harm against our children and community. She should never be allowed to work in this county or state or country again.
This is just the latest BS stunt from Janet McDonald. . . who apparently lives with her hubby in the CULT of the Loony Tunes Q alternate reality with Marjorie Taylor Green and the my pillow guy.
Who in the world is voting these people into office? Unfortunately, there is an entire group of these dangerous crazies in local political office. Including, but not limited to Joe Mullins and Danko, and all those associated with them. Our citizens who are lucid, educated, reasonable and still connected to “factual reality” must become active and not only speak out against these lunatics, but also flood the polls and vote them out of office.
David Schaefer says
So true they must get voted out NOW.
Join the Fight! says
Agree 100 percent! You want to know who is voting them in, the republicans here that condone what is going on, until it affects their family, they will vote for anyone that claims to be a republican, does not matter what they do or say. Those that are willing to take them on can’t compete because we can’t come together long enough to come out and vote to make change.
These parasites will suck this community dry of their morals and decency because we allow them to do it. So what if they have a four year term, if they screw up and put lives in danger, all of those with decency and integrity should come together as a community and demand they resign, from the Gov on down.
But, most prefer to sit back and complain about what they see and know is wrong, in my humble opinion!
There are various groups that are fired up and ready to affect change, hit me up if you are interested!
I’m interested. How do we connect with you?
Concerned Citizen says
The School Board better watch themselves.
The McDonalds will find a way to sue. And tie the school board up with ethics complaints. Both of them are an embarrassment to this county. And yes. I noticed she was hanging out with the trouble makers as well. Wonder what she has to say about that?
Over the politics says
She is friends with them. She still attends “trump meetings” and is involved with that moms for liberty group. It’s no coincidence that members from both groups were primarily the ones who showed up and caused the disturbance. Many, mind you, not Flagler County residents. This is seemingly a new low, even for her, to push her agenda. Not that she was able to hide her enjoyment of it all very well. It’s unfortunate that politics are getting in the way of protecting our students and teachers and ultimately our county.
almost seems like hate crimes against children by a school board member and a unsuccessful real estate agent
McDonald is still on the school board, there are ways to remove members legally so get busy and get her out of there. She is not in the best interest of the children of Flagler County.
People need to take voting in this county more seriously because they keep picking these losers.
It’s what one has to expect from her. It gives me pleasure knowing she is a miserable bitch errr witch. Remember misery loves company. The only positive is that it seems the people of FPC are sick of the Drama from wackos whom have infiltrated your local Political system. Vote Accordingly
I love to see Anglo Saxon Caucasians in negative chaos. Gods so called perfect angles, look at their chaos at home, just love it. The sad thing is the rest of us reap their bad seeds. Vote them out of office.
Cave man says
Some humans are not human
The Voice Of Reason says
Except for that bizzare trumplike hairdo, she reminds me of the Wicked witch of the west from Wizard Of Oz. I can also imagine her riding that bike stealing poor Todo from the terrified Dorothy. What planet is she from?
Only Me says
Please dont’ say a school board memeber or a county commissioner can’t be removed from office if a President of the USA can. Stop with the lam excuses Flagler County it is time to clean up your dirty laundry for the good of its taxpayers.
Come 2022, let’s vote out McDonald & Woolbright.
Get every single damn person you know to register to vote and show the hell up in 2022.