The Orange County District Attorney’s office says two Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board members may have violated California’s open meeting law earlier this year.
At a Feb. 2 meeting, board member Leandra Blades criticized board President Carrie Buck for abruptly ending two previous meetings because some residents refused to wear masks during the statewide mask order that ended Feb. 15.
At that time Blades publicly hinted the move violated California’s open meeting law, the Brown Act.
“I’ve had to stay silent for a while because of all these unilateral adjournments of these meetings. We’ve had Brown Act violations. We’ve had by law violations,” Blades said at the Feb. 2 meeting.
But, DA investigators found that Blades’ unscheduled discussion at the same February meeting about allowing mesh masks on campuses violated the Brown Act.
“The board considered resolutions proposed by Trustee Leandra Blades that were not on the special meeting agenda and did not qualify as emergency matters,” reads a letter from Deputy District Attorney Jake Jondle to the school district’s lawyer attached to a board meeting agenda.
Investigators also determined another board member violated the Brown Act during that same February meeting by not phoning into the meeting from a place the agenda said he would be at.
“In addition, Trustee Shawn Youngblood may not have remained at the remote meeting location during the entirety of the meeting as disclosed on the meeting agenda,” Jondle’s letter reads.
The findings led a majority of Placentia-Yorba Linda school board trustees at their meeting Tuesday night to vote on a resolution to remedy those violations under the state’s transparency law.
“These violations are considered ‘potential’ at this point in time, as the District Attorney is giving the Board the opportunity to ‘address and remedy’ those potential violations. If the Board addresses them as the District Attorney has recommended, no further actions from the District Attorney’s office will be necessary,” reads a report from Superintendent Michael Matthews.
Both Blades and Youngblood abstained from the vote on Tuesday, with Youngblood criticizing the OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office.
“Being an avid CSI guy, I’m pretty sure that any investigation would require that they would actually talk to the people that they’re investigating and since that didn’t happen, I’ll abstain from this,” said Youngblood at Tuesday’s meeting.
The Feb. 2 meeting’s agenda listed Youngblood as meeting virtually from a hotel room in Texas, but during the meeting, he said he was driving at the same time.
“Hold on, I’m trying to drive while I am doing this,” Youngblood said at the Feb. 2 meeting.
At the time, Trustee Karin Freeman called out Youngblood for not being at the posted location.
As part of the remedy, school board trustees are expected to undergo training on certain aspects of the Brown Act.
The district attorney’s office investigation stemmed from a complaint filed against Board President Buck, alleging that she violated the Brown Act for unilaterally adjourning two meetings earlier this year.
“Based on a review of the relevant facts and law, OCDA does not believe her actions were violations of the Brown Act,” reads Jondle’s letter.
The Feb. 2 special meeting was held after Buck unilaterally adjourned the district’s January meeting twice within minutes because many residents refused to wear masks inside the meeting chambers amid a statewide mask mandate at the time.
At that meeting, trustees considered delaying their board meetings until after the mask mandate was lifted, but decided against doing so.
Blades, Youngblood and some residents criticized Buck for the move, while other residents applauded her decision to end the meetings amid a winter COVID surge.
Issues like masks and vaccine mandates have been flashpoints of debate among district trustees, parents, students and teachers at the Placentia-Yorba Linda school district and others throughout OC.
At the Feb. 2 meeting, Blades added an “emergency” item at the end of the meeting, against the advice from district lawyers.
The item would have prevented students from being removed from the classroom for wearing a mesh mask or other face covering that didn’t follow the district’s masking policy.
The February motion failed on a 2-3 vote, but the district attorney’s office said that because she brought up an item that was not listed on the agenda, it may be a Brown Act violation.
On Tuesday, Blades argued that since the vote failed, it shouldn’t be considered a Brown Act violation and defended her actions. She also said an attorney from the Gavel Project is representing her for free.
“When they looked at what this was, they don’t believe that there is a potential Brown Act violation, because when I moved this forward, I was denied,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t see how this is a potential Brown Act violation.”
Blades also said that since she believed the situation was an emergency, it should have been legal to add the item to the agenda.
“How was this not a state of emergency?” Bladed said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Is hundreds of kids not receiving an education because of somebody’s opinion on a mask — is that an emergency?”
She said she emailed the District Attorney Todd Spitzer and that Spitzer said he’ll look into it.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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