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2022 Election

AskFlagler School Board Candidate Interview: Courtney VandeBunte

Interview Criteria

  • The object of the interview is not to grill the candidate, nor to give them softballs. Ideally, in their answers the candidates provide to voters a useful insight into their ideology, their priorities, and their knowledgeability and preparedness for office.

  • Questions are sent to each declared candidate in the 2022 races for School Board, County Commission, and Palm Coast City Council. Each candidate receives the same exact questions as the other candidates for the same office.

  • The only edits made are for spelling, formatting and basic grammar (i.e., ‘their’ when it should be ‘there’). Censorship of profanity may also be applied if it were to become applicable. Otherwise, answers are presented in their full form as the candidate provides them.

  • Answers are subject to fact-checking if they contain information that’s blatantly misleading or untrue (misrepresenting factually verifiable information, misquoting a statistic, etc). Clarifications will be added underneath the candidate’s answer if applicable. The answers will still be presented as given even if a fact-check or clarification is needed.

  • Some of these questions were contributed by constituents whom candidates would serve if elected later this year.

Other Candidate Interviews

Candidate Interview

-Order these three groups according to how strongly you feel a School Board member is tasked with serving them: students, teachers, and parents.

“They’re all connected. A School Board member has a responsibility to serve all constituents. If teachers and staff are supported, then students will be supported, and parents will be happy. A School Board member is tasked with ensuring the policies are upheld and that parents, families, teachers, staff, and students have voices to communicate their concerns regarding a high quality education for all students.”

-Detail your professional or volunteer experience in the field of education.

“I have a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Education from Florida State University. After graduating, I took my first job teaching Chemistry at a private school in Connecticut for neurodivergent students. This experience taught me so much, not only as an educator, but also personally, and helped me with patience, empathy, and understanding.  However, I missed Florida so returned to my hometown of Flagler, and taught at my alma mater, Flagler Palm Coast High School, as well as Matanzas High School and Old Kings Elementary between the years of 2010 – 2019. 

“I also have experience coaching teachers in student-centered learning practices through NewTech Network and K12, Stride, Inc. During that time, I worked with teachers on how to be responsive educators and how to support their students’ individual needs.

“Currently, I design standards-based curriculum remotely for public schools across the country.”

-Is it necessary to address the teaching of race issues in Flagler County? If so, how?

“Absolutely. There are several Sunshine State Standards that address ‘race issues’ across many grade levels. Events ranging from the impact on Native Americans from European colonization to the Civil Rights movement and so much more are essential standards that must be taught to our students accurately and in meaningful ways that include important historical perspectives. For example, reading works of literature, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, is a way to gain important perspectives about the genocide of an entire race. As a Board member, I will ensure that these standards are taught accurately by advocating for meaningful professional development opportunities for teachers and staff to provide the tools and resources needed to teach these sensitive topics with accuracy and significance.”

-The Parental Rights in Education law was recently passed in Florida. With it in mind, what is the ethical and/or lawful way for educators to handle the issue if kids have questions about same-sex couples or about gender identity?

I do not agree with the idea of students in elementary school being taught about these topics, because they aren’t in the standards. I actually just attended the District’s webinar on the updated Sexual Education Curriculum and the first time that sex is even mentioned in the classroom is 4th grade and that is strictly about puberty, which is a state standard. Teachers are professionals who pride themselves in teaching their students the state standards in meaningful and effective ways…and if sexual topics are not in the standards, it will not be in their lesson plans. During the webinar, I learned that parents and families can opt their child out of any sexual topic they wish, starting at 4th grade, and I believe this is in line with the Parental Rights in Education law. 

“If kids have questions about same-sex couples, such as asking their teacher about who their same-sex partner was when they saw them at the grocery store, that is the same as having questions about a teacher who is not in a same-sex relationship. That teacher should be able to answer the question: “That was my wife/husband/life partner.” Also, a child who has two dads, or two moms, should be able to talk about their family such as, “my two moms are married” or to be able to draw a picture of their same-sex parents, without their teacher worrying about being in legal trouble for allowing a conversation about same-sex couples in their classroom, or without the child feeling alienated for having same-sex parents.”

-What does the phrase ‘parental rights’ mean to you? How would you handle a situation where the consensuses of parents and teachers conflict?

“As a Board member, I wouldn’t directly handle a conflict situation between parents and teachers as that would interfere with the day-to-day operations of the District. However, in my previous answer, I referred to one of the District’s ‘opt-out’ policies that gives parents and families the right to opt their child out of a specific lesson. As a Board member, upholding these policies gives parent’s the rights to determine what is best for their child.”

-In 2022, a student activist was suspended for school for distributing Pride flags against the school’s warning, at a protest he’d organized with cooperation from the school. Did the school administration handle its discipline of this student correctly? Why or why not?

“Personally, I think the school administration failed to plan accordingly, after giving the student permission to have the protest. The distribution of flags should have been discussed beforehand by the administrator, so the student knew what their expectations were. While the student disobeyed administration and continued to distribute the flags after being told not to on the day of, I do not believe this infraction should prevent that student from being able to participate in certain school activities, such as running for Class President. However, I do think the District made the right decision to discipline the student for failing to listen to staff about not distributing the flags, but all of this could have been avoided had administrators been transparent and clear with expectations.  As a Board member, I would not have been involved as it’s a matter between student and administration, but the School Board has since revised the student protest policy to ensure more clarity and understanding for all parties going forward, and I will be committed to upholding this policy.”

-How high of a priority is it for you to push Flagler Schools to receive A grades from the Education Department? What are some specific steps you’d take to achieve this goal?

“It is a top priority. One way to achieve this goal would be to make sure teachers and staff feel supported so they do not leave the profession. When I started teaching at Old Kings Elementary in November of 2018, I was the 3rd teacher for my 6th grade classes. Students of all ages need consistency from their teachers to reach their maximum potential, which is essential to get Flagler back to an ‘A’ district. 

“To increase reading levels, our district needs to shift focus from excessive testing to more meaningful learning opportunities that increase student engagement. When reading is enjoyable, student engagement and achievement will increase. We also need to look at partnerships with various organizations to encourage reading at home and ensuring parental involvement. Learning does not stop when the bell rings.”

-School shootings are a relatively common occurrence in America, from Parkland to Uvalde to Sandy Hook. Are there any measures you’d like to see put in place in Flagler Schools to protect against a school shooting?

First, school security is a huge concern as a parent of 3 children in this district.  When a tragedy like this happens locally, it’s a forever stain with long lasting impacts on the entire community. With each new tragedy, we learn something new that helps us further improve safety measures.  Something we can’t ignore as part of this discussion is mental health.  Flagler schools is building a strong foundation by requiring all of their faculty and staff members to be trained in ‘Mental Health Awareness’, but there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to the well-being of our students.  For instance, Governor DeSantis is now requiring a Financial Literacy class for all High School students. This is great, but I’d also like to see classes or programs focused on Mental Health Awareness, such as the dangers of social media, so our kids are better equipped to handle adversity and be strong, confident, productive members of the community.

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“Of course, all security and other programs require financial assistance, which is why the Half Penny sales tax to be voted on in November is more important than ever.  I’d like to see a portion of the half penny sales tax be utilized to help increase security measures within all the schools. Flagler has done well with hardening the entry points at schools and putting up fences, etc. Ensuring that all of our campuses are as safe as can be with dedicated security teams, electronically-controlled door locks, and real-time surveillance by the sheriff’s office in addition to mental health programs is something every voter can see value in.”

-Lastly, give a broad campaign pitch to those who are still undecided.

“I am a born-and-raised Flagler parent and educator with a passion for public education and our community. I am the best candidate for School Board, District 2 because I know how to help students excel, what teachers and staff need to help students excel, and the importance of family involvement in our schools. I have experience as a student in this district, as an award winning teacher in this district, as a parent, and as a leader for teachers and staff when I coached educators in student-centered learning practices and as a parent in this district.  

“I have attended almost every School Board workshop and meeting for over a year and have become well-versed in the inner workings of the budget and operational responsibilities overseen by the Board. 

“By now, you might have seen or heard things about me by my opponents.  Over the past few months, I’ve seen my opponents and their relatives/endorsers slander me behind my back, make fun of my name or my looks, call me a groomer, say I’m for mask and vaccine mandates and other false information that in many instances is completely irrelevant to the campaign and position as a School Board member.  These attacks are unprofessional and it’s a shame that my opponents have stooped so low in a local, non-partisan election that should be focused on the children and ensuring they receive a quality education.  What kind of an example are they providing when they consistently lie about me, delete my comments and attempt to silence me when I provide corrections or stand up for myself?  I’ve developed a thick skin, but if they are displaying this kind of behavior now, why should we expect any difference if they are elected to the School Board?  Will they only listen to the voices that echo theirs?  Will they only support religious activity as long as it’s in line with their beliefs? Will they ensure that each child, not just those that look and act like their own, will be supported and safe in our schools?  Will they support our teachers or will we continue to have School Board members overly involved leading to high turnover and vacancies?  Will they continue to display defiance for local Board policies? Will their questionable financial decisions impact our county? 

“We have some real issues here in Flagler County and this is even more evident to me as I’ve put myself out there with this campaign.  I started this journey for the School Board over a year ago.  I had been thinking of returning to the classroom, since my children were becoming school-aged, but then decided I could have a bigger impact on all families, students, teachers and staff by running for the District 2 School Board seat.  Our School Board has made national news for disrupting SAT testing, filing criminal complaints against books wasting taxpayer dollars, and being unable to denounce hate groups. Over the past year, I have been present at nearly every workshop and School Board meeting (which is more than I can say for my opponents) and have spoken up to ensure the Board is held accountable for upholding their mission statement.  Like many of you, I’m tired of seeing Flagler County in the national news for one stunt or another.  We are blessed to call this place home and it’s a shame that the center of attention isn’t on the children’s accomplishments and our amazing community, but instead personal antics of elected officials who only seek attention and followers.   

“Not only am I fiscally responsible, I have also never filed for bankruptcy or foreclosure, nor been arrested or charged with a crime. Being a public servant and elected official, especially as a School Board member, not only means setting a good example, being honest, respectful, thoughtful and listening to all concerns, but also having a high regard and respect for the laws, as well as an awareness that the rules also apply to you. I did advocate for masks after the law banning mask mandates was in effect in August 2021.  This was a time when vaccines were unavailable for children, our hospitals were at capacity, a new variant was running rampant and its impact on children still unknown, our air filtration upgrade not completed and classes at capacity.  I was speaking as a parent, for many parents and school staff members in our community who had concerns.  We wanted to get our children back into the classroom as remote learning was taking its toll on families, and students were falling behind, but also wanted to feel like it was safe for our children. But, now, as a Board member, I will uphold this law and support families decisions in choosing what is best for their children.  Please vote for me in the upcoming primary election (open to all registered voters in all districts) and help us get back to the basics.  Let’s give these kids–our future, the focus they deserve and present them with opportunities to ensure that they not only thrive, but excel in a respectable community known for positivity, unity, and high-quality learning.”

Note: the link to Courtney VandeBunte’s campaign website in the above answer was inserted by VandeBunte, not by AskFlagler.

Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

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