LEE COUNTY

Bullying, threats and intimidation WINK News got the results of an investigation that showed it was all happening in the Lee County School District. Now one of the school board members may face sanctions from the governor.

WINK News investigative reporter Peter Fleischer tells you about the charges, findings and possible punishment.

WINK News broke the story last May when the school board first censured board member Chris Patrick after a whistleblower accused her of creating a hostile work environment.

A final report released earlier this month, but not yet released, found the whistleblowers’ complaints credible. That means the governor can suspend Patrick.

“I think we need to look into the complaint that was given to us yesterday,” Melissa Giovanelli said during a school board meeting last May.

Lee School Board Attorney Kathy Dupuis-Bruno filed the whistleblower complaint in May 2022.

In it, she accuses school board member Chris Patrick of bullying and degrading behavior. Dupuis-Bruno doubled down, saying Patrick subjected her to unwarranted criticism, threats and intimidation.

The report found evidence to support the complaints.

“I wasn’t really surprised,” Giovanelli said.

Board member Melisa Giovannelli is listed as one of 12 people interviewed as part of the investigation. Giovanelli demanded that the whistleblower complaint be investigated first.

“I need the employees to feel safe. What we’re going to do as a board is make sure they are. And change the culture of this area. And this is the beginning,” said Giovanelli.

The report shows that Patrick directed Dupuis-Bruno to contact a federal investigator to obtain the status of an investigation into an area retailer who was also a donor to Patrick’s campaign.

Dupuy-Bruno refused.

The report also found that Patrick “criticizes and undermines” Dupuis-Bruno and the district’s legal department “frequently,” citing numerous examples of inappropriate behavior and that Patrick violates anti-bullying rules.

“Finally someone listened,” said former school board member Gwynn Gittens.

Gittens was also among 12 people interviewed for the report.

She revealed to WINK News the disturbing behavior that she said took place behind closed doors.

“For the four years I’ve been on this board, I’ve been bullied, yelled at, yelled at and intimidated by Miss Patrick,” Gittens said.

The report, which comes nearly eight months after a whistleblower complaint, could implicate the governor.

State law gives Gov. Ron DeSantis the power to remove a school board member from office, misdemeanor, dereliction of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, persistent failure to perform duties or commission of a felony.

Again, the council had already condemned Patrick, a formal expression of disapproval.

“In an ideal world, she would have resigned because of all these incidents,” Gittens said.

“It’s up to this council to decide what we do. And I’m looking forward to this opportunity,” said Giovanelli.

Giovanelli did not say what the school board might do in addition to censuring Patrick.

WINK News sources tell the governor that he is already aware of what is happening in Lee County schools. We called his office and contacted whistleblower Kathy Dupuis-Bruno and Chris Patricko. We have not received a comment yet.

That could change by the end of the day on Tuesday. The regular school board meeting begins at 6 p.m. WINK News will be there. We will update this story with any new information from the meeting.

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