Dear Chairman Tucker,
It cannot be the happiest new year for you as chairman of the Flagler County School Board, the most dysfunctional elected board in the county. It’s an impressive achievement in a county of dysfunctional boards.
It hasn’t been the happiest years, old or new, for the rest of us, either. We remember when the school board going back to 2005 was the most collegial local government board there was (once it survived the vulgarities of the Robert Corley years, anyway). It’s now become an embarrassment of witch-hunts, QAnonism, Covid denialism, anti-vaxxers, anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, and of course book burning, the last barely a metaphor. Students can now skip their history classes’ segments on the Inquisition and antebellum America and turn on your meetings’ webcasts instead.
Or read The New York Times. It’s wonderful that Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Jack Petocz was quoted and pictured (twice) in the world’s most important newspaper. It’s hideous that it was the result of two of your colleagues’ comstockery.
There is only so much you can or should do as chairman to control the hallucinations of Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright. Let’s not have illusions of our own on this score: those two are directly and exclusively responsible for the board’s degradation into binges of deceit and zealotry. McDonald regularly uses her position to abuse the truth. Her covid- and vaccine denialism is no less irresponsible than, say, Holocaust denialism, with the difference that falsifying Holocaust history is just bigotry. Falsifying Covid and vaccine science, from her position, may influence decisions and cause harm.
The other one hasn’t gone that far. She’d rather focus on whitewashing history (emphasis on white), as when she went apoplectic a few months ago that a reading exercise included a child’s testimony about taking part in a Black Lives Matter march. Perhaps a vivid first-person account of an insurrectionist shitting on congressional floors at the Capitol might please her sensibilities better. Or when she slandered the superintendent, district staff and librarians with allegations of criminality over that book we heard so much about circulating in high school libraries. She accused. She was wrong and proven so. And of course she never apologized. She just tried, as McDonald had tried in August, to get the school board attorney fired. Your vote stopped the folly.
These two have found in certain crowds a way to appeal to baser instincts and grievances that have nothing to do with the day to day running of good schools, nothing to do with the humanistic aims of education. It’s nothing particular to Flagler: the last thing they are, Woolbright and McDonald, is original. They’re downscale copycats of a national strategy. You can time their ideological eruptions to the latest outrages on Newsmax or Fox, from where Woolbright transcribed her plan of attack on school librarians, from where McDonald cribs her manias for denialism, from where both learned to exalt the mob behind the doublespeak of parental rights.
That’s their game. It’s not yours. So it’s not necessarily fair to refer to the imposture as “the school board.” I don’t mean to implicate you and your two colleagues, Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro, who have kept their feet firmly planted in the 21st century, and law. The three of you have managed, so far anyway, to keep the wheels on this school bus from flailing. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to douse the bonfires of those twin vainglories.
For one, it seems curious that you’re willing to enforce your school board rules only one way. You were quick to silence one of those mummies for liberty at your last meeting when she began to sputter some lies about Conklin. You told her that she was prohibited from naming individuals on the board. If that’s the case, why have you allowed the likes of Woolbright and McDonald to use their position on the dais to slander individual news organizations–namely, of course, FlaglerLive–or, as Woolbright did before the break, Flagler Parent, a Facebook group that’s kept its eyes on the board for several years and done a good job of it, to Woolbright’s displeasure? I happen to think the prohibition on the public to single out board members by name is illegal. I’m glad to see a bill in the legislature potentially addressing that. But it’s worth noting the board’s hypocrisy on that score. You don’t want to be singled out. But the rule doesn’t apply to you as board members. Perhaps you could bring a little consistency to bear.
Second, you’ve been on the School Board long enough to know a few things about the Sunshine Law, and to speak up for it. At a recent meeting Woolbright was incensed that news reporting had beaten the board to its own punch with articles about her book-banning hysterics. She thinks our job as reporters (or bloggers, if she prefers) is just to sit and wait for PR handouts from your Minitrue office. She explicitly said that the board had its own PR office and that all messaging — I think she meant to say massaging– should be channeled through it. Anything else was somehow a leak.
But it’s part of your responsibility, you as chairman and you as board members, to know the law, and to know that anything school related in your possession, other than student records, is public record. There is no such thing as leaking a public record. There is no such thing as a school board member possessing a record that can be leaked. It can only be provided upon request. It must be provided upon request. Not doing so with reasonable speed is unlawful. Woolbright doesn’t understand that we don’t need leaks. It’s enough to do our job as reporters. But it’s not your job to sit on information until your PR machine is ready, as Woolbright would like. That is illegal.
It’s also contemptuous of the public board members presume to be serving, as if information were a privilege for you to dispense when you choose, if you choose, in the manner in which you choose to dispense it. There’s a word for that, Jill: пропаганда.
Again, you’re not implicated, Chairman Tucker. But your silence is enabling your two rogue colleagues’ hypocrisy, their disinformation, their cynical manipulations of public and trust. They’re owed a certain deference as duly elected colleagues: even crackpots deserve representation. But there are rules, your own board rules, and there are laws–not just those the two cherry-pickers like to focus on in their pandering inquisitions.
You remember what the school board was like before these two hijacked it, before Flagler had unreason to be worldwide news for intolerance. We all do. Until they have their third vote, it’s in your power to re-assert the reality-based majority you speak for. Anything less is appeasement, and appeasement in this noxious climate is complicity.