The San Ramon Valley school board is set Tuesday to discuss an allegation it violated state public meeting laws after a resident accused the board of skirting the Brown Act by failing to adequately give notice to the community about its plans to cancel the return of in-person learning.
Superintendent John Malloy denies wrongdoing by the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, but he recommends the Board of Education approve an "unconditional commitment response" to the allegation that agrees not to use the same agenda verbiage in question, while not admitting any violation occurred, in the interest of avoiding potential litigation.
The SRVUSD received a cease-and-desist letter on Dec. 19 from Kathleen DeLaney, who alleged that the board voted days earlier to postpone the return to in-person learning on Jan. 5 without sufficient notice to its constituents, according to the letter.
"On a more personal note, I am sincerely disappointed with the board's underhanded actions," DeLaney said in her letter to the board. "The district has been reassuring parents and students for months that it will proceed with reopening schools on Jan. 5, 2021. Then, without any notice, it reverses this decision. Do you really want this to be your legacy?"
DeLaney further demanded that the board formally rectify the alleged violations by withdrawing its decision to not open schools on Jan. 5.
She alleges that the district violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by not giving the public adequate notice of the board's vote to postpone the return to in-person learning. The law, named for the Assembly member who authored the bill, addresses public access to government meetings, essentially guaranteeing the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
District officials deny the charge, claiming that their actions were legally adequate.
"Item 11.1 of the Dec. 15, 2020, agenda addressed 'San Ramon Valley Unified School District's Path to Reopening Schools," which clearly identified the subject matter," Malloy said in a staff report to the board. "The agenda identified this as an 'action' item, putting the public on notice that action might be taken by the board in relation to re-opening plans."
While the Dec. 15 meeting agenda item did not specifically reference the Jan. 5 reopening date or the postponement of in-person learning, it did broadly state "Pending board discussion, this item may be utilized by the board for any motions and votes related to the re-opening of schools."
"The board acted consistent with this agenda item in voting to postpone the re-opening in light of the ongoing pandemic crisis," Malloy added.
While the district maintains that its actions were legal, in order to avoid potential litigation costs, Malloy has recommended that without admitting any wrongdoing, the board execute an unconditional commit to DeLaney that would commit to "not repeat any actions alleged to have violated the Brown Act related to the Dec. 15, 2020, board agenda."
As a part of the commitment statement, the board would not use the same agenda description as it did in item 11.1 on Dec. 15.
The SRVUSD had previously been set to return to hybrid in-person learning after months of remote education on Jan.5, however those plans were postponed for the foreseeable future during the board's regular meeting on Dec. 15 due to a surge in the number of coronavirus cases.
"Opening schools is a community effort. We have to do it together. The district can't do it by itself, teachers can't do it by themselves, students and parents can't do it by themselves. It has to be everyone including the community," Board President Susanna Ordway said during the district's meeting on Dec. 15.
Residents can provide public comment live at meetings by logging in or dialing into the district's Zoom meeting, which will be visible on the district's homepage of their website when the agenda for the meeting is posted.
To comment by video conference, residents will need to click the “Raise Your Hand” button while in the Zoom meeting to request to speak when public comment is being taken. Participants will be unmuted when it is their turn to speak and will be allowed to make a three minute comment.
To comment by phone, residents will be prompted to “Raise Your Hand” by pressing “*9” to request to speak when public comment is being taken.
Learn more about public comment online at www.srvusd.net/virtualpubliccomment.
In other business
* Taking care of some administrative changes to board assignments and leadership over the next year, during Tuesday's meeting the board will also appoint members to serve liaison assignments on the district's various advisory committees and commissions.
* Malloy will also provide an informational update on the district's efforts to eventually return to in-person learning and the state's path forward for re-opening campuses.
* The board is also set to convene for a special closed session held prior to the start of its regular meeting, where district officials will discuss anticipated litigation -- the specifics of which have not yet been released to the public.
That special meeting is set to start at 4:30 p.m.