In a pair of emails Monday, former Antioch Unified School Board Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray is seeking corrective action by the Antioch Unified School District after just 3 of 200 plus public comments were read at their last Board Meeting at the direction of Board President Ellie Householder.
Gibson-Gray says she has submitted two public comments for the school board meeting that references the Dec. 21, 2020 special meeting (can be viewed here) and stating her concerns. In her first public comment, she stated she believes a Brown Act Violations occurred and lays out her reasoning behind them. In the second item, she believes the Board is attempting to rewrite board policy under Householders lead. She says policy written at the local level cannot supersede Ed Code by the California Department of Education.
The following two public comment were submitted to EastCountyToday ahead of the January 13 the Antioch School Board Meeting. That agenda can be viewed here.
Public Comment Item # 2, Closed Session, #A. Superintendent Evaluation
This public comment also serves as a notice that unless the president of the board corrects the Brown Act Violation that occurred at the December 21, 2020 meeting regarding the same item, I will be filing a Fair Political Practices Complaint. I encourage anyone who did not have their comment read or are as outraged as I am that this has occurred, the complaint form is on line at https://www.fppc.ca.gov/content/fppc-v2/fppc-www/enforcement/electronic-complaint-system.html.
Only three of over 200+ submitted comments regarding the superintendent evaluation were read and nearly 2,000 Change.org comments were not acknowledged. The situation was summarized in a Weekly Update (available on line at AntiochSchools.net) and I hope that the president follows advice of the attorney and the urging of the employees to “cure and correct” the Brown Act Violation.
Friday Weekly Update, January 8, 2021,
It appears that a Brown Act violation occurred that must be corrected. While the Board can limit public comment from time-to time, it is problematic to limit public comment as drastically as occurred at the December 21, 2020 meeting. Additionally, according to legal counsel, limiting public comment prior to closed session is especially problematic as the public’s only way to meaningfully participate in a closed session item is to make public comment unlike an open session item wherein the public can meaningfully participate via public comment and observing the Board’s deliberation. In an attempt to cure and correct the violation, all comments will be read at the next Board Meeting, January 13, 2021. AEA, AMA, CSBA Petition At the request of Trustee Hack, attached is a copy of the signatures from the online petition posted by AEA, AMA, and CSBA regarding the evaluation of the Superintendent
This was the first meeting with a new president, let’s hope she acknowledges and corrects this basic understanding of how the Brown Act applies and how important it is to listen to constituents. I also hope that union leaders, staff members and community pay attention to the actions of the new board president.
Public Comment Item # 14, Items for First Reading, Board Bylaw 9150 – B Student Board Members
Two school board members, Sawyer-White and Householder, began the process of adding a Student Board Member to the AUSD School Board in November of 2019. Trustee Hack requested a summary of actions taken in regard to the creation of a Student Board Member position in the January 8, 2021 Friday Board Update, which has an extensive timeline/outline of the actions/processes.
In summary, the student petition effort was short 208 signatures. If there were 500 valid signatures, the next step would have been to have the high school students create an election process, hold a student election and bring forward the name of a student for the board to approve.
From the January 8, 2021 Friday Board Update
President Gibson-Gray read an excerpt from Education Code 35012 that states, “Any pupil selected to serve as a member of the governing board of a school district shall be enrolled in a high school of the school district, may be less than 18 years of age, and shall be chosen by the pupils enrolled in the high school or high schools of the school district in accordance with procedures prescribed by the governing board.” She suggested that the Board vote on waiving the signature requirement to create the new position and then work with the high school principals to determine a fair voting process for all high school students to select the Student Board Member.
Resolution 9150 – B, in my opinion, is an effort to take current policy and rewrite or create policy at the local level to create an outcome that has been the objective of two board members since November 2019. However, policy written at the local level cannot supersede Ed Code by the California Department of Education. In addition, the proposed policy, is in my opinion, is taking the decision for the selection of the student board member from the students and moving the decision to the school board. The decision belongs to the students. I suggest that the board members request a legal opinion before taking action.
I also hope that union leaders, staff members and community pay attention to the actions of the new board president continues to rewriting board policy.
Editors Notes — Recap from the Board Meeting
(this is the recap portion of the editorial)
Householder began the meeting stating they would begin going into closed session before staff reminded her of Public Comments, approximately 200 speaker cards.
“I know that Vice President Clyde Lewis has a hard stop at 1:00 pm as do I. So I think that what we can probably do depending on how my colleagues feel is read 30-minutes of them and then have those comments be continued onto another meeting, sent to us, cause they will be put into public records regardless,” stated Householder.
Superintendent Anello asked for a Point of Order, stating if there was still a quorum, they could continue the meeting and read the comments into the record.
Householder then had no response stating she wanted to respect her board members time.
Trustee Antonio Hernandez stated he would prefer to start the process and move the rest of it to another meeting in the future.
Trustee Gary Hack requested they put off the issue completely until another meeting because all of the comments are very valid.
“I’ve spent the weekend talking with many community members and members of the unions based on the urgency of this meeting being held today which was not originally scheduled with Ellie putting that on the agenda. Those comments, 200 I think she said, petitions I have too, I don’t think we should split it, we should do it at the same time. There is no urgency to deal with it today, and we do it in three weeks where there is no hard cap of time,” stated Hack.
Householder replied she thought it sounded pretty agreeable to her.
“I believe I am making an assumption here but I think a lot of these comments have to do here with Item No. B of the closed session Item, but I would like to tell folks listening in that the Superintendent is not being evaluated today, we are just having a conversation about the eventual June evaluation,” stated Householder. “I do agree with Trustee Hack that I a bit hesitant to split the comments because they are super valid, but I also don’t want people to think that their voices are being hindered. Then there is this additional thought that a lot of those comments will be a lot more helpful when we are actually doing an evaluation.”
Householder then suggested they go into closed session to discuss the items, discuss where they were at with time and discuss where they would be going forward with the meeting with the comments.
Deputy Superintendent Jessica Romero cautioned the Board that if they were to talk about a closed session item, they should at least hear 30-minutes of public comments.
Hack again suggested the move Item B (Superintendent Performance Evaluation) to the next meeting.
Householder then asked why Public Comments were not on the agenda in which staff reminded her Public Comments can take place on any item of the agenda—including closed session.
Householder then suggested they hear 30-minutes of Public Comments and then go into closed session.
Superintendent Anello then asked if Trustee Hack had made a motion to table the item.
Hack stated again his preference to hear the entire issue in the same meeting rather than splitting it up.
“The issue is this, Ellie made this statement that this is an urgent thing to put on the agenda and we are reacting to that urgency. I spent a number of hours this weekend talking to various people who have called me and reading emails that their belief that this is an absolutely attempt by an individual to get rid of the superintendent. I am not saying that is accurate. I am not saying that is valid,” stated Hack.
Hack continued stating there is some strong feelings out there and that the Board needed to hear them at the same time.
Householder responded saying she appreciated his opinion, but then attempted to defend herself.
“I will say that I did call for this meeting and the only reason why I put this evaluation on a closed session was to have a quick conversation with our new board members because if you recall when last Wednesday’s board meeting, our Superintendent said she didn’t feel grounded because the board did not have goals,” stated Householder. “We all kind of agreed with that and talked about our next step was being developing some goals and I thought as a precursor to that it might be good to just have a quick conversation about what the Superintendents evaluation was in the past and how it could be modified going forward. We also never had a chance to revisit the goals following the last evaluation.”
She continued calling it “unfair”.
“I think its unfair to evaluate somebody on metrics when we are in a landscape that this pandemic has provided. So really, I was hoping to talk about this more in closed session,” stated Householder. “The real impetus and the purpose of this evaluation is to explore this idea of how do you evaluate somebody in the absence of state testing. So I understand how folks feel and there is this sense that there is something nefarious going on, but I can assure you this item was added because it does take time and effort to make these meeting and this was something I had already penciled out to talk about in January. So I am just trying to make the most of everybody’s time since three of us work full time, so if we are going to take an hour out of our day I thought it would be good to touch base on something.”
Householder stated she was not in favor of moving it and thought they could talk about it for a few minutes stating two of them have to leave by 1:00 pm but wanted 30-minutes of comments.
Superintendent Stephanie Anello chimed in stating Householder was not honest in her intentions.
“While I appreciate your comments President Householder, I believe them to be somewhat disingenuous and your attempting to rewrite what happened in our meeting,” stated Anello who highlighted Householder wanted a meeting for the Student Board Member and that they asked not to put anything that isn’t urgent on this meeting because staff was on vacation, in which Householder then requested through email she wanted the Superintendent evaluation included on the agenda.
Hack stated he still thought it was valid for those who submitted comments, signed petitions, would like to hear everything and it not be at two meetings.
“There is no urgency,” stated Hack stating there are many opinions and reactions out there and they should be heard. “Ellie has her explanation, I think it’s very valid, however, the perception in the public and the District is different.”
Hernandez questioned if they put this off until another meeting would it continue the worry and concern of people and it would be looming ahead.
“My understanding is this is a discussion on how we navigate evaluations and how we prepare for that coming in June,” stated Hernandez noting what they have now does not fairly evaluate the superintendent during a pandemic that don’t capture what is going on.
Trustee Dr. Clyde Lewis asked for clarification if the purpose was to establish a set of goals or to understand the evaluation process because that was two separate things.
Householder stated it was to understand the process in an effort to get the Board to think about it over the next several weeks.
“I could have just sent it out in an email but I was hoping to be more transparent with the process and let you know some of my thoughts, get some of your thoughts,” stated Householder. “It’s a process, its not an establishment of goals.”
Lewis stated the questions are coming because of how the item was framed to the public stating performance evaluation versus dialogue around the evaluation process which created the anxiety.
“Is it the language that are giving people cause or the entire process?” asked Lewis.
Householder stated it was the language.
“At the end of the day, its just a title of an item and I’ve tried my best to provide context to folks,” explained Householder.
Hack again restated there are 200 public comments and requested they transfer this discussion of the Superintendent and the reaction and perceptions to the next meeting so you can deal with it and finish it.
Householder cited the reaction to this item shows that they need the new board members to understand the evaluation process and what it is and was unwilling to move it based on the anticipation and build up.
“I don’t think that is good governance and just kicking the can down the road,” stated Householder. “We are in closed session going to talk about this whether its for 15-minutes or 5-minutes. We will decide that in closed session. The issue right now is how we want to do these public comments.”
Householder suggested they have 10-minutes of public comments and then go into closed session and continue the rest of the comments understanding two of the Trustees will leave.
Anello stated while Householder was unwilling to move the item, with a first and a second motion, the item could be removed.
Hack then made the motion to remove the item, which failed to get a second which then prompted Householder to move forward with reading public comments.
A total of three public comments were read which offered support for the Superintendent while scolding Householders behavior in which prompted Householder to cut off public comments and move the meeting into closed session.
Hack stated the rest of the comments should be placed on a future agenda so the entire board could hear the comments.
Householder replied they would still have a quorum after 1:00 pm and the comments could be read.
Hack then stated it would not be fair that two board members would be leaving at 1:00 pm (Householder & Lewis) and the other board members would hear the 200 comments.
“I understand that Trustee Hack, but that is up to the Board Member and their responsibility to go back and listen to those comments,” stated Householder. “The board can’t proceed because they think one or two of the board members won’t hear those comments.”
Lewis and Hernandez stated they would like to hear the comments.
Householder then stated they were moving into closed session and then they will discuss it when they come back.
After coming out of closed session, the board opted to moved Board Bylaws on Student Board Member to a future meeting. (Note: Clyde Lewis had left the meeting)
Householder requested they close out this meeting and re-agenize the Superintendent evaluation and board bylaws before their next meeting—saying it would not be a meeting continuance, but adjourn today and have another meeting.
Hack again requested these item be placed on their next regular meeting.
Householder stated she was trying to be “cognizant of going super late” with a meeting. “I just don’t want to have to stay way super super late and that tends to be what’s happening lately.”
Anello asked for clarification from Deputy Superintendent Jessica Romero stating that an item was on the agenda, the board met and spoke about it but only heard 3 of 200 plus public comments. She also was unsure and will seek clarification on whether the public comments should have been read going into closed session.
Hack reiterated they needed to hear all the public comments, but now did not make any sense and requested they add it to the next board meeting or hold a special meeting just to hear public comments.
Trustee Mary Rocha requested they be read into the next regular meeting on January 13, 2021.
Householder suggested that the public comments be shared on the District website so they could look at them.
“I agree that people have taken time to write those comments and I have replied to every single email that has been sent my way and I so appreciate folks commenting, but I think that there was a cart before the horse on this one,” stated Householder. “This was just going to be a mid-point check in which is a best practice in all other districts that I have looked at when you get two new board members, but I also understand without the context it was a little bit scary, but rest assured the Superintendent evaluation is going to be in June like it has historically been.”
Householder then confirmed there was a consensus to read the comments at a later date which she stated she agreed they needed to be read out loud and was taking peoples comments seriously and would read them into the record at the next board meeting.
The board then adjourned.