The shadowy winter break firing of an Orange Unified School District superintendent has set off two different government secrecy lawsuits from parents.
The first threats came in February, a month after the newly-elected conservative school board majority voted to fire Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen and Assistant Superintendent Cathleen Corella – with replacements lined up despite no prior public discussion – while parents and staff were still on holiday.
That same month, the board’s temporary pick to replace Hansen, Superintendent Ed Velasquez, abruptly resigned after public outcry over the decision.
[Read: The Replacement for Orange Unified’s Fired Superintendent Resigns After a Month]
His predecessor’s abrupt firing was controversial enough to spur a recall effort among parents – and legal warning letters that alleged the board’s Jan. 5 meeting violated California’s public meetings law, and that Hansen’s firing was insufficiently noticed to the public.
Such a warning letter is the first step toward a lawsuit under the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Two different lawsuits were filed this month.
“The challenges are coming from multiple different directions,” said Alex Brewsaugh, the parent of a 7-year-old first grader in the district, who with his wife Sarah filed a lawsuit against OUSD on March 13.
“Everybody’s being affected by all this. We were in position to step up.”
In a phone interview, Brewsaugh said he grew up Republican with his parents in Mission Viejo and that, as an Orange resident, he’s “never been politically involved before.”
“I am now, because of this issue,” he added. “This is about transparency.”
The Brewsaughs’ lawsuit coincides with another lawsuit by another parent named Gregory Pleasants, which asserts Brown Act violations, and follows up on demand for cure letters each party filed on Feb. 3.
“While these actions were shocking to the public … they did not seem to come as a surprise to [school board president] Rick Ledesma, John Ortega, Angie Rumsey, or Madison Miner,” reads the Brewsaughs’ initial letter.
“These actions seem especially suspicious when it was learned that the replacement assistant superintendent was offered his new job by Rick Ledesma on 1/4/23, the day before it was even available. This begs the question When did they discuss and make the decision to fire Dr. Hansen and Ms. Corella and hire the replacements they had already decided on?”
Attached to their lawsuit is a public record the parents obtained, which is a Jan. 3 email between Ledesma and board member Angie Rumsey.
“If the other side decides to dominate the discussion and they keep objecting and go off on their rants at some point John will ‘call for the question’ which you can second. That stops all the debate and we vote on whether or not to immediately take the vote on the item being debated,” Ledesma wrote to Rumsey.
Brewsaugh said that’s the only public record the district produced in response to his and his wife’s requests.
Pleasants, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, filed his own lawsuit on March 20, which seeks a determination on Brown Act violations around the board’s January vote. An attorney associated with the case, Lee Fink, provided a copy of the complaint and said a trial date has not yet been set.
Brewsaugh said he knows Pleasants and that their lawsuits each serve their own purpose: “We have different ideas on how to conduct things.”
He said that firing the superintendent – “costing district taxpayer dollars” – is “not fiscal responsibility.”
On the firing of Hansen, who has since been hired onto the Westminster School District, Brewsaugh said the board “could have waited until the summer.”
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