The role a Board of Trustee member plays, and how to wield that power – as an individual and as part of the whole – were among the topics discussed during a study session Tuesday conducted by two legal counsels for the Manteca Unified School District.
The tenor of the discussion was prefaced by the opening salvo delivered by Ed Fichtner, retired high school ag teacher and former board member, before the start of the presentation. Relying on published reports about board member Ashley Drain confronting Weston Ranch High School administrators over their reported treatment of one of their students, Fichtner said that the new trustee’s actions were “totally wrong.”
As a former school teacher speaking for the other teachers who could not be there, Fichtner said, “I want to be very clear that no one has the right to intimidate” school officials including teachers, quickly adding, “that’s my opinion and I stand by it.”
Drain made no secret of what she did in December on behalf of the student in question whom she was mentoring in private. She detailed everything in an email she sent to this reporter. She later posted her entire email on her Facebook page.
“I will share with you what I took… upon myself to do,” Drain stated.
She went to the vice principal’s office “where I expressed my grave disdain for the poor choices this school is making on behalf of our students…. He and I talked and exchanged (a) powerful and an engaged conversation about the policies as they are – and things he would like to see (at) the (Give Every Child a Chance) after-school program. No harm. No foul. He appeared to be fine when I left. I did make a brief announcement with his door open about the rudeness his office displays and how unprofessional it is. But I guess that’s my right!! Lol”
In a follow-up story about the incident, Drain was asked if she was acting as a private individual or as an elected trustee when she intervened on behalf of the student in question and she replied, “I was acting as Ashley Drain.”
What specifically is the board’s role, and the “power of an individual board member” were among the many topics covered by the informational session held in the district office board room.
Where the board’s power lies is in its being “a collective body,” legal counsel Roberta Rowe, one of the two partners of Lozano Smith Attorneys-at-Law who gave the presentation, told all seven members of the board plus Superintendent Jason Messer and Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke.
“Individual board members exercise only when acting as a collective body at lawfully called board meetings,” one of the three highlights of this section of the presentation stated. It continued, “outside of board meetings, board members have the same power as ordinary citizens – no more and no less. But… others perceive board members as having power. Exercise care regarding your implied powers.”
There is safety in numbers, the legal counselors added further.
“A board member is immune from liability when acting in official capacity as authorized by the board as a whole. Once a member acts on his or her own, he or she is subject to liability for those acts” which include “disclosure of confidential information (and) creating a negative workplace.”