It was not long before the presidential election when the Marion County Public Schools psychologist posted on Facebook an image of a T-shirt disparaging Hunter Biden.
“Crack is Whack” and “BIDEN 2020” were seen on the shirt underneath three photos: Two of Joseph Biden’s son apparently experiencing a drug overdose as a younger man, juxtaposed with another one showing the former vice president smiling with his son during a happier time.
An onslaught of psychologist Krista Schwenk Garner’s coworkers and parents of Marion County students replied with comments critical of her post, on Oct. 16, not long after she attended President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Ocala.
“I consider addiction to be a disease,” wrote Hale-Jinks, who seemed to know Garner personally. “I promise you no one chooses it. … It shocks me to see such, what I perceive as, a hateful post, comments and assumptions coming from you, because you’re such a kind human being.”
Other commenters pointed out that the psychologist’s words went beyond political affiliation.
“I think it’s in poor taste to splash this on a shirt,” wrote Natalie McComb, a marketing manager at AdventHealth Ocala. “I would say the same thing if this was a shirt making fun of Trump’s brother’s alcoholism.”
Garner – who has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Florida and serves as the psychologist for several schools in the county – defended her post in replies to her critics.
“Drug use and abuse is not a medical condition,” she wrote. “It is a choice and obviously not a good one.”
Garner could not be reached for comment when contacted through her Facebook account. A school district official would not disclose her email address to WUFT News.
Kevin Christian, the school district’s director of public relations, said Garner had a conversation with the human resources department and received counseling. Garner’s Facebook account does not identify her as a district employee, so no further action could be taken, Christian said.
“I think people should have the freedom to speak their minds and their own personal social media accounts,” he said. “If we don’t allow that, then the school district is censoring someone’s personal opinion – and that’s a bigger battle we’re not going to get involved with.”
A recent poll conducted by the National Institute of Health reported that 75% of people with addiction issues never get help, often because of shame and stigma.
Several people were outraged to read such extreme language from a school psychologist.
“If you can post that online, what are you saying to the kids behind closed doors?” said Iman Johnson, 38, of Ocala, the mother of a 16 year old student in the district.
Johnson said she would not feel comfortable with Garner speaking to her child, and emailed Superintendent Diane Gullet about her concerns. She did not receive a response.
Johnson also said the district should hold students and workers to the same standard. She said parents received several calls from the district, before the school year started, seeking to remind them to be mindful about what is put on social media.
“Maybe you need to start including those teachers and guidance counselors in those 20 phone calls,” she said.
An email reminding district workers to not allow their political beliefs to interfere with their responsibilities was sent out on Oct. 28.
“Employees with personal social media accounts are encouraged to refrain from identifying themselves as district employees and making political statements,” said the email, a copy of which was obtained by WUFT.
Afton Ginlock, 38, who said she went to high school with Garner in Ocala, worked as a teacher Belleview Middle School until recently moving to New York. She said she shared screenshots of Garner’s posts with her friends and parents of children to make sure she was not overreacting.
“There was not a single person I reached out to – Black, white or otherwise – who did not think it was disgusting,” she said.
Ginlock said the psychologist’s assertion that addiction is a choice goes against the science behind addiction and should be considered reckless and dangerous. She also said Garner violated the Florida Department of Education’s principles of professional conduct for educators, and particularly the first one: “The educator values the worth and dignity of every person.”
Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, said her peers working in schools should never ridicule drug abuse – or do or say things that would make children less likely to get help for a friend or themselves.
Cowan also said that while everyone has the right to free speech, school psychologists must adhere to ethical standards and not do things that interfere with their ability to do the job.
“If you don’t want your mother, The New York Times, your children and maybe your leader of faith to see what you’re doing, don’t do it on social media,” she said.