Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Clay County School Superintendent Defends Religious Content In Robo Calls

Clay County Schools

Clay County School Superintendent Charlie Van Zant is defending mentions of his religious beliefs in his phone messages to parents. One parent says she’s uncomfortable with what she sees as his “editorializing” in official correspondence.

Like all district parents, the mom got a robo call from Van Zant on May 3, explaining a school lockdown had been lifted after police located a suspected killer in Green Cove Springs.

She recalls, “The superintendent said, ‘And most of all, I’d like to thank God,’ and I was like, ‘Hmm, OK.’”

She’s not religious, and she asked we not use her name because she feels she’s in the minority and is afraid of backlash on her child.

But she felt she had to speak up after a second call from Van Zant this week, saying he refuses to comply with White House guidance on transgender rights.

In that call, also posted on the district’s YouTube channel, he said, “Make no mistake, we will not disregard the traditional family values shared by so many in our community in order to accommodate the demands of a very small minority.”

The mom says, “I thought, ‘How dare he? How does he know that my child is not transgender?’”

Van Zant says historical precedent supports his right to talk about his religion, even as an elected official. He points to the Declaration of Independence’s mention of “the Creator” as an example.

“But that doesn’t mean that’s at the exclusion of her student, herself or anybody else that doesn’t choose to believe the way I do,” he says. He notes district, state and federal policies require him and the rest of the school administration to treat all students the same, regardless of religious beliefs. 

“And anybody’s free to run for the office of superintendent of schools that might have a different set of values," he says.

Van Zant, a Republican, faces Republican challenger Addison Davis, Democrat Marion Keith Nichols and unaffiliated candidate Rebecca Shively for reelection this year. His campaign has raised nearly twice as much money as Davis’s: $47,391.94 to $26,970.00. Shively’s campaign has raised $1,575, and Nichols’s has raised $305.11. A write-in candidate, Fred Gottshalk, has not recorded any contributions. 

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP