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Texts from Bernier on the day his separation agreement was to be approved say he wanted to "protect what's left." | Screenshot of texts from Lee Schools

Before Duval superintendent pick’s sudden resignation, a whistleblower complaint 

Published on June 3, 2024 at 11:30 pm

The Duval County School Board is set to discuss the contract for hiring its new superintendent pick, Christopher Bernier, on Tuesday. 

Days before he abruptly resigned as Lee Schools superintendent in April, Bernier was the subject of a previously unreported whistleblower complaint that accused him of “bullying” and “racial profiling” of an employee, according to public records reviewed by Jacksonville Today and interviews with Lee County district employees and community stakeholders. 

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The records provide a potential answer to why Bernier may have left his previous post as head of the Southwest Florida district so suddenly. They also contradict the explanation he gave during public questioning before his selection in Duval in May: that he simply didn’t want to run for election in his district, which was switching from an appointed to an elected superintendent model. 

Bernier did not respond to a voicemail or text messages sent to his cell phone by this story’s deadline. 

Before the resignation

On the morning of April 8, hours before the Lee County School Board was set to vote on his separation agreement, Bernier and Lee County School Board member Chris Patricca were texting each other about his just-submitted resignation. 

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“…this allows me to move on and protect what’s left,” Bernier texted Patricca at one point in the heavily redacted series of messages, which were provided in response to a public records request by Jacksonville Today

Bernier also wrote, “Based on some of the information that went public yesterday, this agreement also represents my best path forward.”

It’s unclear exactly why Bernier said information “went public,” but a search of social media shows that on April 7, a Facebook page in Lee County did share allegations similar to what were in the complaint. 

The complaint

An employee with knowledge of the matter says a Lee school district employee filed the whistleblower complaint on April 4. Documents show the whistleblower accused Bernier of “racial profiling,” along with using his position of power to threaten, intimidate and demean the employee. The employee alleged Bernier’s “bullying” was so extreme that they suffered from “trauma, anxiety, stress, and the inability to sleep.”

The district’s ethics contractor continues to investigate the complaint, sources say.

Chris Bernier answers questions from Duval School Board members during his visit to Jacksonville May 13. | Megan Mallicoat, Jacksonville Today

The timeline

After the whistleblower complaint was filed on April 4, Bernier resigned from Lee County and applied for the Duval job in the days that followed. The complaint is separate from two previously reported civil rights lawsuits in which Bernier is named, related to a racist text message sent by a Fort Myers baseball coach and its fallout.

On April 8, the Lee County School Board approved his separation agreement — which included continuing to pay Bernier’s salary and retirement benefits and agreeing to represent him in legal matters. The board then terminated that agreement on Monday, June 3, in anticipation of his new contract with Duval Schools.

  • Thursday, April 4: Whistleblower complaint is filed with the district
  • Saturday, April 6: Bernier applies to Duval Schools 
  • Monday, April 8: Lee School Board approves Bernier’s separation agreement

Jacksonville Today has requested records of emails among Lee County board members about Bernier’s resignation. This story will be updated with more information as it’s received. 


author image Reporter Megan Mallicoat is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on education. Her professional experience includes teaching at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, as well as editing, communications management, web design, and graphic design. She has a doctorate in mass communication with an emphasis in social psychology from UF. In her "free time," you'll most likely find her on the sidelines of some kind of kids’ sports practice, holding a book.
author image Reporter Megan Mallicoat is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on education. Her professional experience includes teaching at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, as well as editing, communications management, web design, and graphic design. She has a doctorate in mass communication with an emphasis in social psychology from UF. In her "free time," you'll most likely find her on the sidelines of some kind of kids’ sports practice, holding a book.

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