A group of San Ramon Valley parents has initiated the process to start collecting signatures for a recall petition to oust three members of the local school board over their decision to reverse course on in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notices of intent to recall have been sent to San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board President Susanna Ordway, Board Member Rachel Hurd and Board Member Ken Mintz, petition organizers said on Tuesday morning.
The recall backers said they stand for the many parents in the Valley outraged by the district remaining with remote learning only for the general student population, contrary to what they believe is best for their children's education, mental health and emotional well-being.
"We do not believe science supports a continued forced remote learning environment,"said Rachel Bailey, a parent of three SRVUSD students and organizer of the recall effort.
"A majority of our country is back to in-person learning in some form, including parts of California and even private schools within San Ramon Valley with no major outbreaks," Bailey said. "Our children are suffering in an isolated remote environment. There has to be a more balanced approach to education during this time."
Mintz, who has served more than 15 years on the board combined over two stints, confirmed he was served with the notice this evening.
"It's unfortunate that a group of parents felt it necessary to take this action because they disagreed with a decision of the school board related to how and when SRVUSD would implement our hybrid in-school option, an issue that just about every school district in the state is dealing with," Mintz told DanvilleSanRamon.com.
"As you may imagine it has been a difficult decision process at the local level with a number of constraints and considerations including vaccination and testing and the surging pandemic issues locally as well as comments and directives from county health and the state," he added. "I personally want to get our students and staff back in school as soon as it is safe to do so."
Hurd, who has the longest consecutive tenure on the current board, said she was served with an envelope containing the notice at her home last Thursday, and was "surprised" by the action.
"I do stand by my decision on Dec. 15 to support the superintendent's recommendation to pause our planned Jan. 5 opening of hybrid in-person instruction," Hurd told DanvilleSanRamon.com via email this afternoon. "I understand that at tonight's board meeting Dr. Malloy will review the decision-making process to clarify some members of the public's misconceptions about that process."
"In addition, Dr. Malloy is going to provide us with staff's further thinking and plans for meeting the needs of our students, especially the ones who are most challenged by the remote-only delivery, and the board will discuss and consider staff's recommendations," Hurd added. "The governor released additional guidance last week, which staff needed to analyze and consider. I haven't yet seen staff's recommendations and very much look forward to this presentation and discussion."
Ordway had not responded to requests for comment as of 7 p.m.
The notices of intent represent the start of the process for Contra Costa County Elections Division officials to review the proposed recall petitions for approval, after which the proponents could begin collecting signatures from registered voters in the hopes of spurring recall elections.
A copy of the proposed petition has not been released publicly.
Hurd said the notice she received alleges three grounds for recall: "unwillingness to meet, to discuss and to vote in alignment with her community members in Zone 5; serious matter of violating the Brown Act; and (she) has not demonstrated financial governance and oversight required by a board member and has failed her primary responsibility to ensure accountability."
In a press release Tuesday, the recall backers cited the school board's decision on Dec. 15 to postpone indefinitely SRVUSD returning to more in-person learning via a hybrid model that was scheduled to take effect Jan. 5. Board members supported staff's recommendation to pause any reopenings due to new surge in the number of coronavirus cases.
The board voted unanimously that night to remain with remote learning until Contra Costa County is removed from the state's most-restrictive purple tier and into the less restrictive red tier, halting SRVUSD's progress toward more phases of reopening after winter break on Jan. 5 as had been planned.
"Parents and students were blindsided by this sudden reversal," the recall proponents said. "The phased re-opening was in compliance with health guidelines set forth by both the state and county last fall."
The backers also allege the board's decision was in part driven by a letter from the California Teachers Association, on behalf of the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA), advocating the district pause its plans amid worsening COVID-19 cases in the community.
They further point to the allegation filed with the district by resident Kathleen DeLaney that the school board violated state public meeting laws with its Dec. 15 agenda verbiage, claiming the board failed to adequately provide notice, as required by the Brown Act, about its plans to cancel the return of in-person learning.
Superintendent John Malloy stands by the Dec. 15 meeting agenda and denies any Brown Act violations occurred.
But Malloy has recommended the board approve an "unconditional commitment response" to the allegation that agrees not to use the same agenda verbiage in question, while not admitting any wrongdoing, in the interest of avoiding potential litigation. The board are scheduled to discuss that matter at their regular meeting tonight.
Hurd and Mintz are longtime school board members, while Ordway is in the middle of her first full term. All three earned their current four-year term in fall 2018; they were appointed after no election was held because they were the only candidates to file for the three open seats at that time.
Hurd is in her fourth consecutive term, having sat on the board since 2006.
Mintz has had two stints on the school board, with his most recent tenure beginning with an appointment in 2009. He previously served a single term from 1992-96.
Ordway has served on the school board since June 2018, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy.
The recall backers said they could not include new board members Laura Bratt and Shelley Clark in their petition effort because state law prevents recalling officials within 90 days of taking office. Bratt and Clark won election on the Nov. 3 ballot and took their seats last month.