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DCPS superintendent finalist named in 2 federal lawsuits
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DCPS superintendent finalist named in 2 federal lawsuits

  • PublishedMay 23, 2024



Former Lee County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier is one of nine defendants listed in federal lawsuits.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Just one day before the Duval County School Board is set to vote on who should be the next superintendent, parents in the county were discussing one of the finalists’ pasts, including two federal lawsuits he is named in.

Former Lee County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier, the Lee County School District and seven others were named in the lawsuits.

The lawsuits, filed by parents of a teenager on the Fort Myers High School baseball team, accuse the baseball coach of sending a racist text to players and coaches. Bernier is listed as a defendant.

The lawsuit argues the coach, Alex Carcioppolo, sent a text reading: “Happy Valentine’s Day, n****s.”

“Upon learning of the text, the defendants did not reach out to plaintiff TR [the student athlete] or address the overt racism with the members of the baseball team,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit argues the district retaliated against the teen after reporting the text message, and Bernier “neglected to enforce policies effectively.”

“Superintendent Christopher S. Bernier failed to ensure that school policies were implemented in a manner that adequately protected students from ongoing issues, including systemic discrimination and harassment. Bernier failed to act decisively against systemic racial issues, despite being aware of them, perpetuated a hostile environment which targeted students of color,” the lawsuit argues.

Bernier spoke about the situation last week during his interview with the Duval County School Board.

“One of the most complicated issues I’ve dealt with is going to potentially be an ESPN story,” Bernier told board members on May 13. “A 30 for 30 regarding a baseball team that went through some racial strife. But I appreciate the investment of time both formally and informally with the principal.”

Bernier also said he left his position as Lee County Public Schools superintendent once voters chose for it to become an elected position. However, Lee County School Board members said at an April board meeting his leaving was sudden.

“This came about very quickly, obviously, and was unexpected,” said Lee County School Board Chair Samuel Fisher, referring to Bernier’s departure.

“We’ve had two days to try to comprehend everything that has taken place here in this settlement,” said Debbie Jordan, Lee County School Board member.

Duval County School Board Chair Darryl Willie said Bernier being named in federal lawsuits is not a deal breaker.

“Whenever you have a superintendent that’s in a high position like that, issues happen within that district, they’re gonna be likely named in lawsuits,” he said. “It happens here, it happens across the state and the country. We did really thorough background checks on all our candidates to make sure that we were entering into the process in good faith and making sure there was nothing glaring in backgrounds and it came up clear.”

Willie continued, “It may come up as a decision or factor for certain board members but it’s certainly not a disqualifying factor in my opinion.”

The other superintendent candidate, Dr. Daniel Smith, is chief of staff in a Virginia school district.

First Coast News reached out to Bernier for comment Wednesday and has not heard back.

Below is the full statement Bernier provided to the Duval County School Board regarding the situation:

“One of the most complicated issues I’ve dealt with is going to potentially be an ESPN story. A 30 for 30 regarding a baseball team that went through some racial strife. But I appreciate the investment of time both formally and informally with the principal. Formally, I’ve met with him many times. Informally, I got an amazing opportunity, serendipitously, to be sitting at a wrestling match where his son was wrestling. He was no longer in principle mode. He was there enjoying his son. We got into a very long conversation about a very impactful coach in his life who he credited with saving his life. When the issue came through and he was struggling with the decision and I called, he said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to engage in a conversation so you can find out what you believe is the right next step.’ And in the course of the conversation, I did finally ask the question, ‘If you had done to your head football coach what your baseball team did, what would you do?’ And he said, ‘I have to hang up, I know exactly what to do now.’ I said, ‘Well, hold on a minute, I’ve got to tell seven board members what you’re up to, so clue me in first.’ And it was a very difficult decision and some of the ramifications are still being played out and it’s an ongoing investigation so I’m being very, kind of, not as revealing as I could be, but maybe privately, we could dig into that conversation a little bit deeper.”

Full lawsuit attached below




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