A push to reshape what kids are taught in public schools may set off a government secrecy lawsuit in Orange County.
In a formal letter to Orange Unified School District officials this week, a parent alleges the school board majority broke the state’s open meeting laws when its members fired two top school executives without explanation last month and while people were out of town on winter break.
That included the two top administrators who got the boot: Former Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen, and her second-in-command, Cathleen Corella.
The letter by Jordan Elementary parent and attorney Gregory Pleasants echoes what other parents alleged while crowding the chambers of that Jan. 5 meeting in protest:
It asserts the board majority ambushed the public with an insufficiently-noticed special meeting, gave no explanation for their decision, and improperly agreed on the firings prior to any public discussion, as they had the two replacements lined up before the meeting convened.
Pleasants’ letter also cites reporting by both Voice of OC and the Orange County Register, in which both of those employees’ replacements, Craig Abercrombie and Edward Velasquez, told reporters that School Board President Rick Ledesma contacted them about the positions before the Jan. 5 meeting.
“As several public commenters noted (at that Jan. 5 meeting), this was deliberate – to suppress public participation and ambush residents with the meeting, and he (Ledesma) knew what they were proposing was not going to be popular,” Pleasants said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Phone and text requests for comment from Ledesma went unreturned as of Wednesday.
The letter alleges violations under the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state law outlining transparency standards for open government meetings.
Under the law, Pleasants’ letter constitutes a formal complaint, which is the first step toward a lawsuit in the event the district does not take action to respond.
In the time since the January firings, controversy’s brewed out of the district in other ways.
School officials sparked cries of censorship when they suspended the district’s digital library called Sora, after complaints that the portal exposed young students to books about sexual assault and same-sex relationships.
The district reinstated the online portal this week after backlash, with a review of its content guidelines expected next month.
It all comes amidst political shifts on the school board resulting from the November election, with a newfound Republican majority now overseeing the 27,000-student district.
Though Pleasants said his contention comes from a desire for robust public input.
“They are public about their agenda. Their campaign materials were clear,” Pleasants said over the phone. “As a majority, they have the right to do some things, but they have to do what they do transparently, even if the public disagrees.”
“And they can’t make decisions in secret.”