Letter: We need fresh leadership on the school board after Certain opposed re-opening schools and supported forced masking
July 29, 2022
Current District 1 school board member and candidate Tina Certain may have seemed to start her initial term with good questions arising from her experience as an accountant, but she has lost her way during the last 2 years, becoming increasingly hostile to parents, and should not be re-elected. People should not forget that she was against the reopening of brick-and-mortar schooling in Fall 2020, led the charge to break the law on a school masking executive order (and later on guidelines from the Florida Department of Health), supported the hiring and promotion of a superintendent who was fired just 15 months later, and mocked parents who were concerned about how her decisions impacted their children.
According to school board minutes, Certain expressed her desire to defy the governor’s order to reopen schools and to take away parental choice for in-person learning early on. On July 15, 2020, the minutes reported, “Mrs. Certain stated she feels uneasy opening Brick and Mortar.”
On July 27, 2020, she changed the profile picture on her Facebook page to read: “Refuse to Return, We Will Not Return to Campus Until Our Counties Report No New COVID-19 Cases for 14+ Days.” According to this metric, schools would still not be in-person, even today.
The minutes for the August 4, 2020, school board meeting include the following:
Mrs. Certain requested that a special meeting be scheduled for next week, to include the following discussions: • Metrics from the medical community, to assess the need for a shutdown. • Response to our District Plan, if it has been received from DOE. • Possibility of the first nine weeks of school being totally digital • Possibility of using funding from the CARES Act if there is a digital opening.
On August 12, Mr. Alex Rella, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services, pointed out that if Alachua County did not open for in-person schooling, $30 million in state funding would be jeopardized. After dire warnings of teacher furloughs and funding problems, Certain’s response was “to ask that Mr. Rella speak with County Manager Lieberman about the possibility of assistance from Intergovernmental Agency funds.” So as an accountant, she thought that the County government should cover a $30 million shortfall she would have been responsible for creating.
After this back and forth, parents who wanted and needed their children to go to school in person desperately tried reaching out to school board members, including Mrs. Certain. Decisions had still not been made on a start date for school, and parents needed to know if their children would be going to school in person.
Certain did not respond to parent emails and openly mocked parents on Facebook and social media posts.
In August, Certain’s post in a Facebook group for community members who were worried about in-person schooling showed how little respect she gave to parents: “Yep…they started emailing us..I have about 150 unopened. The reasons for opening B&M [brick and mortar] have me puzzled. I can’t respond to any more of them this week…I need to give you my password. 😂”
After schools did eventually open and Diyonne McGraw was “elected” to the school board in spite of not being qualified to run in her district, Certain joined forces with McGraw and Chair Leanetta McNealy and turned her sights on appointing a new superintendent. At a meeting on December 4, 2020, she described Dr. Carlee Simon as “exceptionally qualified: – new voice, new depth, new skill set.” Certain is the one who made the motion to hire Dr. Carlee Simon as interim superintendent, seconded by McGraw. After the motion was approved, school board minutes note, “Dr. Simon thanked the Board for putting their trust in her and stated that she will work very hard to make sure that everyone can move forward together. She believes that positive work can be done and looks forward to the collaboration.”
This would be the start of a continuing downhill spiral for Certain and her continuing disdain for parents and the law in 2021. She found a kindred spirit in the new interim superintendent, later making the motion in March to make the position permanent and give Simon a $15,000 raise. She and the superintendent were a driving force in defying the governor’s executive order, and later defying guidelines from the Florida Department of Health, on forcing masks on children and in regards to quarantine. She gave interviews on CNN in August 2021, in which she was so delusional about reality that she denied she was breaking the order (even CNN knew it was against the law, for goodness sake):
“And joining us now is Alachua County School Board Member Tina Certain, who is with us.Tina, this is in defiance of the governor. He is threatening to withhold funds. Tell us why it was worth doing anyways.“
TINA CERTAIN, ALACHUA COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, SUPPORTS MASK MANDATE: “Well, I kind of disagree. I don’t think it’s in defiance of the governor. I don’t think that there are clearly outlined rules that have been developed yet in the executive order. The order says if we don’t comply with the rules that are made, or policy, and currently right now we just have the executive order that talks about a lot of whereas, people can choose to not wear a mask for whatever reasons. But there has been no formal policy developed yet out of this executive order that tells districts that we cannot have a mask ordinance or mandatory mask amongst our students.”
This blatant mis-statement of the facts brought parents out to school board meetings and, among many other issues, had the community questioning Tina Certain’s judgment in bringing the combative superintendent on board; as time went on, many in the community wanted the superintendent fired. Once again, Certain couldn’t be bothered to care about parent concerns.
According to public record requests, during the school board meeting on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, instead of listening to parent concerns about the superintendent and the validity of her contract, Tina and the superintendent were texting their friend “AK”:
Tina Certain: Lord help me. AK: What about your contract? That’s what they are referring to. Tina Certain: 1st citizen tried to say Carlee not qualified so we fire her tonight. Carlee Simon: I meet qualifications to be a superintendent. This is also the same contract I’ve served under for 10 months. Tina Certain: I know. Carlee Simon: I would sue on this. We made this contract with good intent. Tina Certain: Is certification required? AK: To be super? Tina Certain: Yes. That’s what I’m asking. AK: Shouldn’t Lea [Chair Leanetta McNealy] be cutting these people off? Tina Certain: David [School Board Attorney David Delaney] gonna tell her parameters. Lea should have said 2 minute comments. AK: So you were hired without that certification? Tina Certain: Certification isn’t required. AK: Understood from state statute point of view, but why is it in the contract? Carlee Simon: Didn’t get it removed. Doesn’t really matter.
Tina Certain showed contempt for parent concerns. Why wasn’t she giving her full attention at the meeting? Why was she texting the superintendent who was there in the room? If she had questions, why didn’t she ask these questions at the meeting instead of texting her “friends”?
It was because Certain was an enthusiastic supporter of the unpopular, now fired superintendent, as evidenced by her glowing review of the superintendent at the February 7, 2022, school board meeting. All board members gave evaluations, most poor, while Certain just raved about Simon, ranking her “outstanding.”
Certain gave the superintendent an “8” on the metric of “Treats People Fairly.” She said that Simon was outstanding in providing “fair and consistent treatment of employees across the district – irrespective of person, position, title or work location.”
Certain gave Simon a “7” (which is in the outstanding column), for the metric “Supports the management of student behavior through the development and refinement of School Board rules and policies” but did make the note: “I have heard of increased student misbehavior and mental health incidences.” Oh, so maybe parents weren’t crazy when they spoke of immense discipline issues within the schools??
Certain gave Simon the highest score possible for “Maintains a cooperative and professional relationship with the news media”: “Dr. Simon has done this well with national news outlets.” Well, if she is killing it on CNN, this proves she is outstanding indeed for her district!
Her next highest ranking was “Assists in the development of new policy in response to District needs.”
Certain wrote that Simon did “outstanding” in COVID management, “establishing a COVID Response Team with Prescott that added a level of professionalism to COVID management and SMAC collaboration.” These are all things that broke numerous state laws, and she scored her ally, the superintendent, the highest on these!
Certain has shown poor judgment in not wanting to re-open brick and mortar schools, costing the district money in fighting lawsuits that were filed to compel the district to follow state orders regarding forced masking on children, and is still an enthusiastic supporter of a failed superintendent that divided this county and drove teachers, administrators, parents, and students away from the district. This community needs fresh leadership; vote for Daniel Fisher!
Suzanne Kay, Gainesville
The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to email@example.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.
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