Recently our school board grudgingly stopped stonewalling years of public information requests and disclosed a 300 percent increase in legal costs for each of the last three years. This escalation reveals gullibility of School Board members taking bad legal advice to employ hardline tactics and “make an example” of aggrieved teachers, parents and students who dare to challenge board decisions. Not coincidentally, increased legal claims, litigation and settlements increase profits for board lawyers.
Legal bullying accelerated after a long-time LBHS science teacher was forced to seek protection in court against petty retaliatory abuse of power without evidence or due process. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and insurance claims later, the court ruled the school district violated the teacher’s legal rights. Although significant damages were awarded to the teacher, the school district ignored injustice done and declared victory because the award was less than expected.
Our school board again embraced political aggression under color of law by refusing to remove “hate incident” notations in school records of five students, after one student challenged that nationally publicized disciplinary action. Only the judge’s threat to hold our superintendent in contempt of court prevented the student from being punished pending LBUSD appeal of the court’s ruling in the student’s favor.
Now the school board just lost its appeal of that case, in a pointedly critical appeals court ruling affirming the trial court’s findings. The court held defendant superintendent and school board failed to afford due process, interview students, rely on evidence, or comply with state law on student rights.
Unlimited resources for legal costs enables the board to stubbornly refuse remedial solutions. That forces teachers, parents, students and even minority board members to accept injustice or bear the burden of seeking court oversight to stop abuses.
Legal costs also increase when the school board settles embarrassing cases it can’t afford to lose politically. We have called for annual reports on legal costs including all settlements, keeping identities sealed only as to parties who request it, not to protect the board from transparency.
For example, is it true as widely reported a senior educator was paid an estimated $200,000 to leave quietly and dismiss her grievance against the superintendent, alleging verbal abuse and behavior creating a hostile work environment?
Without transparency there is no accountability, and without accountability there is no integrity.
Howard Hills, Laguna Beach