Those expecting Connie Bernard to quickly resign from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board in the face of recent controversy are likely to be disappointed.

“She’s getting ready for a fight,” said Woody Jenkins, the former state legislator who has served with Bernard for years on the parish’s Republican Party’s executive committee. “She won’t lay down.”

Bernard, 58, has weathered previous controversies over her decade serving on the School Board. Those include her involvement in a June 2012 effort by supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul supporters to control a state GOP convention, which alienated some Republicans. Bernard also had a tough 2014 reelection, which she won with 52% of the vote, where she had to overcome former allies who rallied behind a GOP challenger and greatly outspent her.

Her current predicament, however, is far more grave. New enemies are joining forces with old enemies. And some former supporters are parting ways.

Anna Fogle said she first met Bernard in the '90s, but the two got to know each other only after Bernard became a School Board member. They also connected because Bernard’s son and Fogle’s daughter went to school together at Glasgow Middle. Fogle spent several years as the president of a local association of gifted parents and spoke to Bernard on occasion about education issues.

Fogle recalls she would occasionally press Bernard to take stances at odds with local business groups that exercise a lot of influence over board affairs, prompting internal struggles for Bernard. Fogle said Bernard would ultimately “do the right thing,” which caused her political problems.

“There’s some wrong thinking at times that had to be righted,” Fogle said.

Baton Rouge school board member 'deeply sorry' after comments defending General Robert E. Lee

Nevertheless, Fogle said Bernard needs to resign after her recent comments about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. In a June 10 TV interview, Bernard said those offended by the name of Lee High School in Baton Rouge should “learn a bit more” about Gen. Lee.

Fogle noted that the school system serves largely Black students — more than 71% last year.

“I wouldn’t have thought she was as tone deaf as her comments showed her to be,” Fogle said.

Still, she said, she expects Bernard to hang on and complete her third term, which ends Dec. 31, 2022.

“To me, it’s amazing how she keeps on going with all of the issues that she faces,” Fogle said.

Bernard did not respond to an Advocate request to speak for this story.

Bernard’s comments about Gen. Lee were compounded after local activist Gary Chambers called her out at a June 18 board meeting for shopping online even as the board was debating whether to change the name of Lee High School.

The three-minute video of Chambers’ speech went viral. Bernard was quickly labeled a “Karen,” an internet insult attached to any White woman acting inappropriately, rudely or in an entitled fashion. Some went further, declaring that “Connie is the new Karen.”

After that meeting, Bernard apologized for her comments nine days earlier about Gen. Lee, saying they were “insensitive” and she is “deeply sorry.” But she denied she was shopping during the board meeting — it was a pop-up ad that she neglected to close; several witnesses disputed her contention.

The partial apology added fuel to the fire. By Monday, the four Black board members held a news conference calling on Bernard to resign, but she quickly announced she intends to serve out her third term.

The next day, a petition was filed seeking to force Bernard out of her District 8 seat. Petitioners have 180 days, or until about Christmas, to collect more than 8,000 signatures from registered voters in the district, which covers much of the southeastern part of the parish. More than half of the district is situated in the newly approved city of St. George.

A successful recall petition would set up an election where voters in District 8 would vote for or against recalling Bernard from office. If enough voters agree to such a recall, then Bernard would be removed from office, setting the stage for a special election for someone else to serve the remainder of the term.

In August 2018, Bernard also provoked calls for her resignation, calls she also resisted. They arose from an episode where Bernard walked into a party at a neighbor’s house, leading to a profanity-filled confrontation that was caught on video. She is still fighting misdemeanor counts of simple battery and entering and remaining after being forbidden.

The video of the Aug. 10, 2018 incident shows a side of Bernard the public hadn’t seen. During one 22-second stretch, she drops eight F-bombs.

At one point, the video shows her grasping one young man at the base of his neck. That physical contact is the root of the simple battery charge. Some people who’ve seen the video argue she was choking him, but District Attorney Hillar Moore has been unwilling to describe Bernard’s actions as choking.

“I didn’t touch anybody you f****** b******,” Bernard declares in the video after the confrontation moved to the front lawn.

The outrage at the time was tempered by the knowledge that Bernard’s husband, John, had recently been diagnosed with cancer, something Bernard cited when she subsequently gave up her post as a board vice president.

The incident provoked anger by many in the Black community, even though all the participants were White, with some arguing that Bernard, as a White person, was being treated much easier by authorities than if she were Black.

“She also was charged with battery back in 2018 for choking a teenage boy on camera inside of his own home,” reads one online petition calling for Bernard’s resignation.

Maya Guntz, who is vice chairwoman of the recall effort, said the 2018 incident alone was not enough to get her to seek Bernard’s recall, but it did add to her dissatisfaction with the board member.

“The bar is really low for Connie Bernard,” Guntz said. “She’s the cussing, fussing, child-choking school board member.”

Similar to now, Bernard at the time issued only a partial apology, expressing regret only for her foul language that night. Months later, she pleaded not guilty to the two charges, which she is still facing. A July 27 status conference is scheduled before Judge Ron Johnson.

District Attorney Moore said the next step is to schedule a trial, but the coronavirus outbreak creates uncertainty as to when that trial will happen.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.