By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education recently discussed sending a letter reminding district employees that district policy bars them from communicating with individual board members.
At its May 27 meeting, the Board voted to table the conversation until July.
Approved in 2012, the bylaw recognizes the Board as a “unit of authority over the district and that a Board member has no individual authority.” This prevents any individual member from commanding work or information from any school employee. The bylaw explains that Board members should instead submit requests for information to the Superintendent.
The Board also discussed amending the bylaw to add a definition of what it means for a board member to “command” staff. The amendment would also add that board member’s positions “should not interfere with their ability to engaged [sic] in their child’s education, volunteer, or assume similar duties available to other parents, Board members have a unique privilege and responsibility as elected officials and should try to avoid any misunderstanding about their individual authority.”
The discussion came after Member Dee Perry contacted staff on behalf of the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach.
“There was an incident in April,” Perry explained that she was asked by the Club to “explore possibilities of doing more to serve our English Learners.” Perry contacted a district employee who works with English Learner students. The staffer suggested that STEM camp or activities would be useful.
The Director of College and Career Advantage informed Perry about a free robotics, engineering and manufacturing boot camp that the CCA offered. Perry said a district employee discussed the possible liability of an outside group providing transportation for students to the camp. Perry never received information about solving transportation issues and was met with a memo citing the bylaw regarding board member-employee communications, she said.
“I believe being a Board member does not strip me of my constitutional right to communicate with school district employees,” Perry said. “Board members have a right to conduct independent fact finding that includes contacting district staff.”
Perry also asked administrators if employees must contact their supervisor about any questions asked by a board member.
“You may go in and say ‘I’m here as this, I’m not here as a board member,’ but you’re always perceived as a board member,” board member Jan Vickers said during the meeting. “So I think as long as we remember that, then I think it may help how we address situations.”
Amid public criticism for poor transparency, the Board voted to postpone discussion on authorizing staff to make minor revisions to Board policies and bylaws until July.
“Seems that we’re in a period of time where there are continuing comments about board members not conforming to the Brown Act, not conforming to proper meeting protocols,” Vickers said. “And I think that the timeliness of this, that we have a portion of our community who feels that we are not behaving properly, that this is not the time to bring this forward, even though it makes sense.”
In other business, the Board discussed resuming in-person meetings as the state plans to fully reopen the economy on June 15.
“I think it’s extremely important for the board to resume in person meetings, and perhaps consider a combination of a Zoom call in, as I think you are getting a lot more participation with Zoom calls,” Laguna Beach parent Sheri Morgan said. “However, these are supposed to be public meetings, and one of the benefits of a public meeting is to be able to see who else is in attendance, and who else is supporting your thoughts and ideas.”
“I do think it’s time to show that you’re not afraid anymore, and that the science is clear, it’s OK to be outside of your house and be around other people, do your job, like all other essential workers have been doing for the past year,” resident Anne Morreale said.
Still under the guidance of maintaining six-feet distance, the Board looked at alternative locations for its future meetings that would have more room to do so. One alternative was Thurston Middle School’s library.
The Board previously approved buying new audio-visual equipment for its meeting room. However, COVID-19 prompted the Board to delay the purchase. Using Thurston’s existing equipment, outfitting the library for board meetings would be about half this cost, staffers said.
Board members concluded that they’d like to be back in-person in July, once new equipment can be installed at Thurston. Live streaming and hybrid access to meetings will also continue to be offered.
The Board also discussed ending the emergency authority granted to the superintendent signed in March 2020.
“Traditionally, these types of resolutions are for, you know, major gas leaks that are happening on the school site, you know, those sorts of things where, you know, immediate action has to be taken or to, to address those,” Supt. Jason Viloria said. “So, this is the first time that we’ve had a situation where it’s a pandemic and that we’ve had this type of order.”
The Board plans to vote at the upcoming June 8 meeting for the emergency authority to dissolve on June 15.