Monday, September 2, 2013

Illegal, Secret e-Meetings by School Trustees?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 2, 2013 at 12:05 PM

School district trustees may have broken the state's public meeting law by exchanging e-mails about how to handle a plagiarized graduation speech by one of their own, the Arcata Eye and McKinleyville Press reported last week.

The emails reveal a group of school board members eager to make the problem go away as quickly as possible, and some who suggested that fellow board member Dan Johnson's speech at Arcata High wasn't really all that bad, even though it lifted passages from a well-known speech that some students sitting in his audience had studied.

The article by the Eye's Kevin Hoover, based on public records requests for the emails, is full of fascinating nuggets and raises more questions about how the Northern Humboldt Union High School District conducts its business. References are made to Johnson consulting a lawyer and to communications that were not released.

Interestingly, the trustees' long silence during public complaints about Johnson's speech appears to have been endorsed or encouraged by Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Garry Eagles. When board member Colleen Toste wrote him on June 28 asking how to handle media coverage, he replied that "absolutely no statement from anyone is appropriate under the circumstances" except from Johnson, if he chooses.

Some of the exchanges included enough board members or were passed along to enough board members to constitute "a virtual quorum," Hoover wrote, which could run afoul of the Brown Act's ban on most secret meetings by school boards and other public bodies.

Through the entire affair, school board members e-mailed a lot about damage control but nothing about what Hoover called "the glaring double standard in the way Johnson has been coddled and excused for his plagiarism, undermining teachers' ability to credibly teach students that cheating is unacceptable and punishable."

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Carrie Peyton Dahlberg

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Carrie Peyton Dahlberg was editor of the North Coast Journal from June 2011 to November 2013.

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