Letter: New Beginning For School Board?

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We should want for local government what we all want for our state and nation, which is healing from conflict to enhance civic life. President-Elect Biden’s call to let go of anger or vengeance and find common ground is imperative for local public school governance.  Especially during what remains of the current daily crisis for families struggling with a stubborn and menacing public health emergency. 

In the 2020 School Board election, 14,548 votes were cast for the two candidates who defended the record of the current Board majority. Three candidates on the ballot calling for reform received a total of 12,545 votes. That close aggregate vote between status quo and change candidates is why our newly re-configured School Board should put chronic divisiveness and a culture of conflict in school governance behind us. 

To do that the Board should adopt a bylaw affirming rights of elected board members and public to oppose, dissent, protest, petition, lodge grievances, and otherwise exercise lawfully their civil rights of free speech, association and assembly before the Board. The Board can change its culture by recognizing support and opposition, praise and criticism, have equal value in creating a public record of its deliberations and proceedings.    

The Board also must affirm the right of its elected members and the public without recrimination or disparagement to seek judicial oversight to address alleged abuse of power by school officials. Instead, we have watched board members vilify and stigmatize citizens who ask courts to determine if official powers were abused.

Even when courts rule that the Board and/or Superintendent have abused power, the Board retaliates aggressively. That makes it unsafe for board members, teachers, parents, students or public to oppose Board practices without fear of punitive consequences. 

Current board members have acted prejudicially against court challenges, apparently not knowing the state Brown Act open meeting law specifically empowers Board members and citizens to bring actions in the state courts to enforce transparency and accountability for school boards.   

Finally, the pending federal court appeal in Board member Dee Perry’s equal rights discrimination case should be settled by mediation. A simple agreement that no board member will be singled for selective enforcement or exclusion from Board proceedings in retaliation for dissenting votes and open opposition would be a good compromise. 

That would demonstrate the Board’s commitment to moving on to paramount governance challenges facing our schools.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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