Frustrations over the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's decision to postpone in-person learning due to the coronavirus pandemic were on display during the Board of Education's virtual meeting on Tuesday, where a collection of parents aired their disapproval of the board's decision.
More than a dozen community members addressed the board during Tuesday's meeting, primarily addressing frustrations over the board's decision to not return to in-person learning on Jan. 5 and alleged Brown Act violations committed during the board's Dec. 15 meeting.
The alleged violations have even spurred a collection of residents to initiate a recall effort against Board President Susanna Ordway, Board Member Rachel Hurd and Board Member Ken Mintz.
"I wonder how you sleep at night knowing that instead of being the collaborative leader who will stop at nothing to secure educational and equitable opportunity for our students, you are standing by while our students' educational well-being is being ripped out from under their feet by a teachers' union obsessed with power and control," district parent and former board candidate Priscilla Graft said Tuesday.
Board members denied the allegations, which in a formal letter sent to the district on Dec. 19, claimed that the board's vote to postpone in-person learning during its Dec. 15 meeting was not made with sufficient notice being given to residents -- a key provision of the Brown Act.
"The action that the board took that evening, which was to push back the reopening date, was consistent with the agenda and it's our conclusion that as a result there was no Brown Act violation," district counsel Harold Freiman said during Tuesday's meeting.
"What we have before the board is an opportunity that the Brown Act affords you -- to make a commitment to use different language moving forward. This does not constitute an admission in any way of responsibility or guilt that the Brown Act was violated," he added. "It fits with a theme that I've discussed with staff that is, while we feel the agenda language was adequate on Dec. 15, there is always room for improvement and the district has made clear to its staff that it always wants to improve."
Without admitting any wrongdoing, the district during Tuesday's meeting did commit to using different verbiage in the future when referring to specific agenda items, hopefully ensuring more clarity for district residents on meeting items.
"I have to look at the hundreds and hundreds of people who have been participating in and viewing our meetings, which indicates to me that information about our topic -- and tonight this is about the only topic we have has to do with reopening schools -- so the word appears to be getting out," Mintz added.
After originally planning to return to hybrid in-person on Jan. 5, the board jettisoned those plans when the coronavirus pandemic began to surge throughout the state and region.
"That analogy of 'we've been building the plane as we're flying it' really isn't that far off," board member Hurd said on Tuesday. "I was reflecting back to where we were in the middle of March when we decided to close, and there was a lot of pressure coming from parents of 'why the heck are you still open.' I mean it's hard to remember way back then but that was the case people were afraid to have their children at school."
"The whole situation has been fluid all along and anyone who pretends that it isn't really hasn't been in the thick of it," she added.
In reaction to the district's decision to postpone in-person learning, a group of San Ramon Valley parents has initiated the process to start collecting signatures for a recall petition which seeks to oust Hurd, Mintz and Ordway.
"This evening I received the notification of intent to recall and I have to say I'm disappointed in members of our community who felt that this was the approach that they needed to take in order to get their voices heard," board member Mintz said Tuesday.
"We have so many things going on in our environment these days between COVID and what's going on politically, there's a lot of fatigue out there, a lot of emotion out there and personally I don't believe that this is the best approach," he added.
While recall efforts typically require a certain percentage of the district's population to sign a petition requesting a special election, Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Debi Cooper said that due to the SRVUSD's recent transition from at-large to by-district voting, officials are unsure what number of signatures would be needed in order to launch a recall election.
"Our question to counsel is do the signers need to be from the district as a whole or must they be from the individual district? At this point, some were elected at-large (district-wide) and some members have been elected to a specific district after the change," Cooper said.
Once the number of signatures needed is identified, petitioners will have between 60 to 120 days to complete the process -- with the length of time also depending on the number of signatures needed.
Afterward, Contra Costa County officials will look to certify or reject the sufficiency of the petition. If certified, the SRVUSD board will have 14 days to order a special election, enabling voters to cast their ballots in favor or opposed to a recall.
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.