PALM COAST – All six registered School Board candidates made their cases to voters on Monday night at the VFW Post 8696 on Old Kings Road. The event was well-attended, and for the very most part, measured and respectful.
As mentioned in AskFlagler’s preview article for the forum, the six candidates with their hats in the ring are:
- Sally Hunt (District 1)
- Jill Woolbright (District 1) (incumbent)
- Lance Alred (District 2)
- Will Furry (District 2)
- Courtney VandeBunte (District 2)
- Christy Chong (District 4)
All six were present, and took the time answering questions (which they’d seen beforehand) and giving a general campaign pitch. The crowd on-hand was a diverse mixture of political ideologies, not overwhelmingly comprised of one side or the other. Aside from applauses here and there, there weren’t any disruptions while candidates spoke. The candidates themselves also refrained from personal attacks while they had the microphone.
There was, as with last November’s contentious School Board meeting, one member in attendance with apparel of the far-right Three Percenters group who stood watch at the side of the room throughout the evening, but the man didn’t appear to cause any confrontation as members of the group had done with FPCHS students in November.
Candidates were first given the floor to introduce attendees to who they are and why they were running. Lance Alred was first up, describing his youth in Palatka and how he’d been familiar with the area and watched how it grew over the years.
Christy Chong was next, and was to the point: she outlined her belief in parental rights, school choice, and limited government. The theme of parental involvement in the process was a leading component of her message throughout the evening.
Will Furry came third, and spoke of his lifelong involvement with the church. He recounted mission trips to South America, his current student ministry role at Epic Church, and his current job as a realtor.
Sally Hunt came next, and introduced herself as a mom who could bring practical representation of parents to the School Board. She had a unique angle for voters, telling them Jill Woolbright was a good candidate for them if they were confident in the job she’d done, but that it was important to have multiple options in each race.
Next was Courtney VandeBunte, who touched on uniting a splintered community. “I’m running for School Board so that we can heal together,” she said, having stood arm-in-arm with Moms for Liberty and most of the community on the issue of raising county impact fees last month.
Last was Jill Woolbright, who spoke of her 30+ year career in public schools. She was up-front about being a conservative Republican, naming some of the clubs she attends locally. “The district needs to maximize parental involvement for all students,” she said, echoing Chong’s priority.
The first sanctioned question was where candidates stood on parental rights, the issue which Moms for Liberty is most known for tackling. Chong’s answer was succinct, speaking out against mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools (she didn’t weigh in on existing Hepatitis B or Tetanus shot requirements). Hunt drew a common thread in all sides wanting parents involved, but put forth that it would never be possible to please all parents. “At some point, we have to make decisions for the entire school system,” she said.
Woolbright was the first to endorse the Parental Rights in Education bill (or, Don’t Say Gay if you’re opposed), a sentiment which was later echoed by Furry, Chong, and Alred. She doubled down on her controversial efforts to remove ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ from school libraries late last year, a situation which put her in national headlines. “I am here to hold the school system accountable to follow state law,” she said, “because that’s the oath that I took”.
VandeBunte touched on having more accessible portals for parents to be involved in communicating with teachers. She complimented an idea of Woolbright’s, which was to create a parent guidebook which explained how to use children’s classwork portals and access their grades.
Furry and Alred similarly suggested the government was reaching too far into education. Their conclusions were more or less the same, as were all candidates’ in essence: that parents being more involved correlated to greater student success.
The second question asked for each candidate’s number one concerns. It was a little easier to pick out some candidates’ true answer than others, but in short they chose:
- Courtney VandeBunte: Unity.
- Will Furry: Community.
- Lance Alred: Academic achievement.
- Christy Chong: Indoctrination.
- Sally Hunt: Empathy.
- Jill Woolbright: Transparency.
From here, candidates were given the chance to mingle with attendees and collect petition signatures to appear on the ballot. AskFlagler asked each one what they hoped would be taken away about them and their campaign. The answers were:
Hunt: “I am an everyday working parent, I am not a politician. What I’ve said over and over again is I want to be another choice for Flagler County. I have a great background both in public education and in the business community, I think I’m a great option.”
Chong: “Parents should have a say in their children’s education. They should be kept in the loop. They shouldn’t just be told your child has to wear a mask, your child has to have this vaccine…parents know what is best for their children. I just want to make sure parents’ voices are heard, and when they come to a School Board meeting they’re not only heard but that it’s addressed.”
Alred: “I think it’s very important that people do get to know and understand the candidates that are running, their backgrounds, where they come from, their values, and so I think I successfully did that tonight and I think more people will have a more informed decision for the election.”
Woolbright: “I believe in the rule of law, and that we have set procedures and we have policies, that School Board members are supposed to hold up policy and make sure that the district follows policy. And policies are just the rules and regulations that we must follow and that it is our job to follow them and hold people accountable to follow them. Most of them come from the state down to us, and we put them in place. If we don’t like them, we don’t break them. We don’t have individual rights to break the law. If we do, we should have consequences to breaking the law. If we want to change the law, then we go out and do our civic duty in other ways. But until it’s changed, we follow it. So that’s basically what I hope people get, that I am going to make sure that they know what the policies are, how they’re intended to be put forth in the schools, and if they’re not that I will address it.”
VandeBunte: “[I hope they take away] my passion for education and meaningful learning for all students and my efforts to bring unity amongst parents, students and school staff.”