On September 9, the Flagler County School Board Board held a day-long workshop it called a “retreat” to conduct the “Master Board” program, an exercise designed to train school boards and their superintendent in governance and effectiveness. The program is designed by the Florida School Board Association. The Flagler session was led by April Griffin, a leadership services consultant with the FSBA.
The Flagler board is fractured. It’s been experiencing tense, contentious meetings and at times bitter internal disagreements. Tensions spilled into the open at the session, held in a third-floor conference room at the Government Services Building, in the presence of Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt and Board Attorney Kristy Gavin. The session was open to the public and was only lightly attended though at one point the school board attorney and two board members attempted to bar a reporter and others from recording the meeting. The reporter did not comply. The prohibition would have violated Florida’s open-meetings law.
This is the first of two articles on the retreat. See the second, “Flagler School Board’s ‘Retreat’ Unravels in Rancor and Accusations as Deep Dysfunction Is Laid Bare.”
Flagler County School Board member Janet McDonald, who has often used her seat on the board to peddle false and misleading information or attempt irregular, unapproved maneuvers, claimed earlier this month at a school board retreat–falsely–that a member of the audience charged the dais and threatened her with death, and that the school board, the attorney or the police did nothing.
McDonald, speaking heatedly at a Sept. 9 “retreat” of the school board, accused Randy Bertrand, the parent of a student in the district who often addressed the school board between 2019 and 2021, and who briefly ran for the board, of making the death threat. Bertrand denies it. A video recording of the incident shows McDonald to have fabricated much of how she described the incident at the Sept. 9 workshop. (See the video segment at the foot of the article.)
The issue arose early in the session as the moderator, April Griffin, a consultant with the Florida School Board Association, was urging the board members to turn off Facebook for a month. “Leave all the noise and focus on what’s best for the kids. Not only their health and safety, but their achievement.” Griffin then said she wanted to talk about “civility.”
“I watched your last meeting,” she told the board, referring to the Aug. 17 meting.
“God bless you,” Janet McDonald said.
“I don’t know how long your recess was. But if it was 30 minutes, an hour, that’s an hour of time in your lives that you’re not doing your job. And you let them hijack you,” Griffin went on. She added: “Your parliamentarian, is your attorney. When she says we’re in recess, because the crowd is unruly, that means you’re in recess. And I’m sorry, I’m going to say this: Go away. Go back in the back. Let everything calm down. I’m not saying names, but you know, you didn’t accomplish anything by staying out front except for to keep people riled up.”
The names she had in mind were McDonald’s and Board member Jill Woolbright’s.
“Now, you can shake your head. Perspective is reality, OK?” Griffin went on. “My perspective was what I saw from that video. So that’s my reality. I already said I didn’t live it. But what I did see was that a unified board was not present. And before we go into civility, I want to know: Do you want to learn and work together?”
“Absolutely,” McDonald said. She was the only one who spoke up–the one who had riled up the crowd most that evening, the one who has undermined the board’s cohesion most, who has circumvented the board’s rules most over the years, and who did so again at the Aug. 17 meeting when she refused to comply with a deputy’s admonitions to go to a rear room.
She presented her alternate reality again to Griffin, claiming that “the board is to blame” for the meeting going off the rails, “leaving the responsibility solely on Kristie,” meaning Kristy Gavin, the board’s attorney. But that was inaccurate: as Griffin had stated, it was Gavin’s responsibility to act as the parliamentarian. Gavin herself said that as in the past, if a parliamentarian or the board chair has called for recess, we’ve gone into recess.”
It was then that, as she was being corrected, McDonald made the claim about Bertrand.
“But when I was threatened with death from Randy Bertrand, and he charged the dais, nothing was done. We did not recess. We calmed down, we stayed there, and the crowd calmed down,” McDonald said.
“I don’t recall you ever being threatened,” School Board member Colleen Conklin said. Nor has McDonald mentioned the alleged incident since.
“He charged the stage, and he said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Got up out of his seat and charged the dais,” McDonald claimed. “I was chair at the time. Colleen, I don’t care if you remember. I do. I viscerally remember, and yet nothing was done. There was no police report. There was no action, no, no recess, no clear the building. That was one person, and an angry crowd because of a policy, a word to be added to our policies.”
“Did anybody else hear you being threatened?” Conklin asked. Tucker was the only other board member on the panel at the time. He said it was a long time ago.
“You can’t dismiss the way that that made Janet feel,” Griffin said of McDonald’s interpretation. “You can’t dismiss that, because that is her reality.”
“And if everybody watches the tape, it’s not going to be just Janet’s reality,” McDonald said. “ I get his emotions, I get his reaction. I did not file any complaints. I did not clear the room, we just let the room calm down. So the meeting could continue.”
In fact, based on the video McDonald is referring to, nothing of the sort that McDonald described took place, and the meeting was recessed–by Gavin.
The meeting McDonald is referring to was the evening of June 16, 2020. It was the first meeting with Cathy Mittelstadt in the superintendent’s chair. Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School student, was the last speaker in the public comment segment. Some 40 minutes intro the meeting, Petocz had begun to speak about “hatred towards minority groups has become increasingly commonplace throughout our world.”
Petocz blamed the Trump administration and police brutality before saying: “The chairperson of the Flagler schools board has only amplified and–”
McDonald interrupted him, stopped him from going on, said what he was saying was “not the work of the board, this is an issue you have with me,” and inviting him to speak with her later–but not continue his statement. A stunned School Board member Andy Dance would later call the maneuver a “low point” in board history. (See Petocz’s full, unedited statement here.)
Petocz was referring to revelations days earlier that McDonald was using her Twitter feed to disseminate misinformation, tweets about “brainwashing” children in schools, denigrating Black Lives Matter protesters, and ridiculing LGBTQ rights. (She hasn’t stopped. “The jab kills and maims!!,” she tweeted earlier this month, one of many covid-denying falsehoods, also retweeting a line denying the Biden election: “This is why you don’t certify fraud.”).
After McDonald censored Petocz, Conklin raised an issue with the process, saying “the individual could have continued with his comment whether we like it or not,” if only with a warning not to use names. “We have to be careful in not allowing people to express themselves and share.”
McDonald responded, saying she had been criticized after recent board meetings “because I allowed people to say things that were personally addressed.”
It was at that point that Bertrand had his outburst from the back of the room: “Why didn’t you stand–” he began, immediately getting rebuked by the board attorney, Conklin and Andy Dance. Bertrand stood up from his chair, but never made it close to the dais. In the room he was diametrically at the other end from where McDonald was sitting, and though he walked near the dais at the other end–where Tucker was sitting–he was never close enough to even appear in the wide angle frame of the meeting video.
“Why didn’t you stand to defend my son?” Bertrand is heard yelling.
“Mr. Bertrand, I’m going to ask that you sit down,” Gavin tells him, as a sheriff’s deputy walks from the left side of the room into the well of the chamber, but barely for a second. The deputy then turns around and walks back out of the frame.
McDonald, unflustered by any of it, continued: “Please sit down Randy, this isn’t about that,” she said, as Bertrand tried to interrupt again very briefly, though what he says is unintelligible over Gavin’s request and McDonald’s own: “Allow me to speak please. One of the rules is the board cannot communicate with the speakers. That is very uncomfortable for the audience. But I would love to have a conversation with any and every person in this community about the misunderstandings, about the way I conduct the business according to the commonly accepted rules of this board…” McDonald went on in her usual tone, looking not one bit changed, upset or uncomfortable.
It is undeniable from the video that while Bertrand interrupted the meeting with his outburst, he at no point was threatening, either in words or in coming anywhere near the dais, let alone coming near McDonald. Had he made an audible death threat, he would have faced arrest. McDonald’s claim to the contrary is a fabrication.
So is her claim that “there was no action, no, no recess.” After McDonald went on for three minutes talking about “working together” and how “we are one human race,” Gavin said: “Board, at this time I’m going to recess this meeting for five minutes, where we will come back to the dais, and we will begin our meeting.”
McDonald had no objection to Gavin, as the parliamentarian, recessing the meeting. McDonald made no attempt to call for a vote or otherwise interfered with Gavin. The meeting–the very first meeting with Cathy Mittelstadt in the superintendent’s chair–was recessed. Five months later, as the board bid Dance and Maria Barbosa farewell–McDonald, in the well of the chamber, passed the mic around to anyone who wanted to speak, including Bertrand, who stood next to her and spoke before he and McDonald hugged.
Obviously, there was no hint of any animus between them.
McDonald needs to be voted out!! That action is long overdue!!
Merrill Shapiro says
If I still had my Superman comic books, I would send them to Janet McDonald. She knows nothing about “Truth.” She knows nothing about “Justice.” She knows nothing about “The American Way.” Let’s replace her at the polls in November, 2022 with someone who shares our American Values.
The recent school board meeting gives us clear insight at the almost insurmountable ignorance we are up against. It also gives a much broarder look at how the community as a whole is uneducated in many aspects. The level of incompetency demonstrated by the school board members is walking them directly towards criminal negligence. As outlined in chapter 1006 “The district school board shall provide for the proper accounting for all students, for the attendance and control of students at school, and for proper attention to health, safety, and other matters relating to the welfare of students” The school board is currently negligent of the chapter 1006 statues outlining their responsibilities.
There is a simple metric that should be added to the current record keeping of positive cases which would give clear factual evidence whether masks are effective in reducing the transmission of Covid in schools. Each positive case recorded should also indicate whether the student or faculty member was consistently wearing a mask while attending school. This metric would indicate results in a very short period of time, which would afford all of us the missing piece of important data
Masks don’t work that way. They don’t offer much protection to the wearer; they prevent the wearer from spreading their own aerosols. Why is this still something people don’t understand?
Just a thought says
By your own logic you are wrong. If my own “aerosols” can’t get through my mask, wouldn’t that mean your, or anyone else’s “aerosol” can’t get through my mask either?
Common sense says
Masks actually work both ways. And if the person wearing it is an asymptomatic carrier of the virus then as you state it prevents the spread of there aerosols that carry the virus……. Therefore reducing / preventing the spread of the virus.
Wheres the Tylenol…….
Just think if she was voted in…… many in the community must have the same Ideology as her !
Wheres the Tylenol !!!
Judith Michaud says
In my opinion there are only 2 board members that belong on our board ! They both speak with facts and not misinformation ! They both keep their personal beliefs out of the meetings ! They are both well informed and put the kids and school staff first ! The others are there to voice their political views and as far as I have seen they could care less about the welfare of our educational system ! Time for changes people !
Wow. How pathetic.
I suppose I should feel something like pity or empathy for her chronic failure to understand and process facts. But… I don’t. She suffers from an obvious lack of clarity, perspective and conscience to acknowledge that her words and actions are her problem.
A reflection of the country. Look at the history of this country. Will not go into details.
Oh please Palm Coast stop electing people that can’t tell the difference between truth and lie. Hold our elected officials to the same standards we expect of our kids by the time they reach 5 or 6 years old. Do yourself a favor.
Concerned Citizen says
Her husband trips over imaginary cracks in the sidewalk. And files frivelous ethics complaints when his feelings get hurt. He then claims he is not subject to the same rules when punished for being an ass. I don’t expect any different from her. Anything to get a little attention.
Just think the people that voted for her share her ideology !!!!! It could be your neighbor!
So how did she get where she is ? !!!
The community as a whole needs more education, involvement, and awareness !
A the height of the Pandemic, I saw Ms. McDonald and her husband checking out at the Publix, completely unmasked–the very picture of clueless Narcissistic entitlement.
Don’t expect her character to change, folks. Foisting her will on the rest of us is much more important to her than safeguarding the interests of the public–even at the cost of our children. Vote her out.
G A says
And here it is; Janet McDonald needs to be removed from her school board seat or sat in the corner with a time out and dunce hat until the next election when we can sideline her for good. Hopefully, the woman will get some professional help for her delusions. It wouldn’t matter so much except she is in a place to do some real damage with these delusions. No matter what, she needs to be removed from that school board for the good of all concerned. I really hope the voters of this county have learned a very important lesson. Just because a candidate is a Republican doesn’t mean an automatic vote from you. THAT kind of nonsense needs to stop.
Trailer Bob says
I am a Republican, and she is merely insane. Who votes for people like her when it is apparent that she is hateful and lacks any true education with regard to human beings and our residents. Radical and self-centered nutjob.
What an embarrassment to our County.
Imagine all the people in your community that voted for her, not only should she be removed but the ones that voted for her should be identified and listed so we know not to allow them to work in this county ever again.
The dude says
Why is this crazy old hag making decisions that affect the daily lives of our students?
She must be reading Joe Biden’s book on how to lie and be stupid?
You meant Trumps book right? The Art of the Steal errr Deal
Mike Cocchiola says
She’s a rabid Trump Republican. She was elected by rabid Flagler right-wingers. Don’t bring President Biden into this. YOU are the problem.
Cynthia J Johnston says
Exactly right Mike.. these idiots are partially responsible for the deaths we are seeing I’m FL. They refuse to keep our children safe and alive.. what kind of human beings abandon our children
No Mikes not exactly right. He’s just perpetuating the same behavior as all the other indoctrinad radicals. This has nothing to do with political ideology, and has everything thing to do with the ability to make rational decisions based on proven historical science.
Well bless your little heart, you are confused. This article is about school board member Janet McDonald. It is not about our President.
When the heat gets hot in the kitchen you got to get out. McDonald has no business being on a School Board or any Board for that matter.
I don’t know who voted her in, but people need to research who they are voting for especially in this day and age with many cult people running for office.
She would be doing the students and Flagler County a huge favor if she just resigned.
The woman is obviously delusional and a fabricator of false truths and a danger to all children in Flagler County. .
The McDonalds are a dangerous, lethal cancer in our community, and to any sane, fact based, transparent Democratic processes. Their depraved cult certainly includes the likes of Joe Mullins (county commissioner) and Ed Danko (Palm Coast city commission), and others.
It is vital that we keep in mind that unfortunately they do have voting supporters. VOTE, as if our factual science based reality depends on your vote. . . it does!
Society has become so fixated, corrupt, distorted, and polarized. People have lost the ability to reason on there own using common sense as well as well known basic facts. Filtering facts, historical evidence, and proven science, through there emotions, and fears rather then logically trying to understand a opposing view or how this and many viruses work.
This is only perpetuated by the hired, and elected officials on the local, state, and the Federal levels. These individuals instead of setting the proper example are acting irrationally, uncivilized, and without any boundaries. This only empowers the public as a whole allowing them to think this behavior is acceptable. Allowing them to think that this behavior is the proper method to achieve their desired results.
If the Flagler School Board, truly have there and our children’s safety and well being set above and before all else then the fix is quite simple.
Unfortunately this is not the case as in many high level hired or elected positions there are multiple outside influences that come before what actually should matter.
Wheres the Tylenol…..
J Bobo says
Right next to the spell-check button (forms of their, there, they’re.)
John Stove says
Mr. Bertrand should sue Ms. McDonald for slander. Saying that he gave her a “death threat” is pretty serious stuff. All Mr. Bertrand has to do is show a tape of the meeting in question and the jury will find in favor for Mr. Bertrand.
It seems like a monetary hit and a legal outcome of a civil lawsuit is the only thing people like her understand. If they arent held accountable for all their Bulls**t they keep spewing it.
Even if McDonald settles out of court before trial it will be worth it?
Bill C says
When you can’t tell the difference between reality and personal fantasy you are psychotic.
J Bobo says
By that standard, most people ARE.
Macdonald is a looser…. Bigly!
Since this was first added I’ve been repeatedly struck by the photo of Blanche DuBois at the moment she realizes where she is going — or am I confusing her with Judith Fellowes?
Or maybe this is just a pretext to add this:
And so it goes.
I have sensed an unbalanced person in this school board member. Protect the children
Why is everybody so surprised and upset?? She was voted in, she didn’t just sit in that chair. Folks should damn well start learning about who the heck they vote for. Start looking at and learning about the candidates for ALL positions before you vote.
Remember, you can’t fix stupid.
Isn’t there a Morals Clause we can apply to de-fang elected government officials who harass select members of the public (let alone, their own colleagues), incite violence, cause public disturbances and endanger the public health, well-being and welfare?
It seems to me that Ms. McDonald fits the above bill in all its many aspects.
If you can’t “fix stupid”, sideline it so it can’t hurt others.