Confusion, tempers mark messy SBAC meeting

An emotional School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting Tuesday night started with screaming during public comment and ended with Chair Dr. Leanetta McNealy vowing to hand out hard copies of the Superintendent Carlee Simon’s resume to everyone who attends future meetings.

The nearly three-hour-long meeting was on track early as opening statements from the board members and Simon focused on thanking Alachua County and Gainesville City Commissioners for the use of their facilities during the SBAC boardroom remodeling.

Simon and board members made announcements, including one about a vaccination clinic for eligible students and the public from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Passage Family Church. The entire board also expressed appreciation for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent proposal to eliminate FSA testing.

Then came citizen comment, which started with the demand that Simon be fired, a message about a dozen citizens repeated in person and in phone calls. Several speakers wore face masks that read “FIRE CARLEE!” Some presented petitions for Simon’s firing stating that thousands had signed them.

Some said she broke the law by enforcing a face mask mandate. One claimed Simon was in breach of her employment contract, while another said she was an activist the board rushed into the job in a “pre-planned” hiring.

Others offered support and commended Simon and the board for protecting their children and looking out for the health and safety of the community.

ACPS Superintendent Carlee Simon

When a 300-page Master Inservice Plan was pulled off the consent agenda to be discussed, it brought another string of negative comments from people who believed it was a cloak for inserting critical race theory curriculum. Simon said it was a document that has been passed annually without significant edits as part of a requirement by the state. It was eventually passed with board member Gunnar Paulson in dissent.

Two bus drivers also spoke during public comment and begged the SBAC to invite their former boss, James Speer, back and reinstate him as the transportation director.

They presented a petition for reinstatement that they said had 89 signatures out of 100 employees in the transportation department.

“Go get our director back,” they said. “Please reach out to Mr. Speers. That is who we would like to work with. Please reinstate him—all you got to do is ask him to come back really, really, nicely.” 

SBAC Chair McNealy repeatedly warned people who spoke during citizen comment to not say anything further about firing Simon. One commenter was escorted away by Alachua County Sheriff Office deputies when he then demanded Simon’s firing.

After a break, during which Chair McNealy consulted with the SBAC attorney, citizens were allowed to demand Simon’s firing as long as they were civil in their discourse.

When the meeting wrapped up and it was time for SBAC comments, Board Member Tina Certain commented that people were misdirecting their comments made about Simon.

“The superintendent implements the will of the board,” Certain said, adding that the SBAC voted for face masks, and as a collective the SBAC gave Simon the authority to work with the attorneys to develop a legal strategy in recent battles with the state.

“Dr. Simon is doing the will of the board,” she said. “She’s doing the things that the board voted for her to do.”

Chair McNealy said in her closing remarks that because those people making comments about firing Simon don’t seem to know what her qualifications are, that she was going to order hard copies of Simon’s resume to be made for each meeting, “for everyone who enters the boardroom.”

She also pledged to read that resume out loud.

“I will read it before I end my term in November,” she said, adding that it will be “a pleasure reading every single item.”

Earlier this year a “No Confidence” petition circulated in the community, attracting more than 1,200 signatures calling for Simon’s ouster. It stalled out amid a controversy over former SBAC member Diyonne McGraw’s residency and mask mandate battles with the governor, but now it is gaining signatures again. More than 1,500 people had signed as of Tuesday night. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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