The inability to come to an agreement with the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District for a special aide has prompted Trustee Tim Nonn to take legal action against the district.
Nonn’s attorney, Timothy Elder of the TRE Legal Practice in Fremont, was expected to file a lawsuit in federal court late Wednesday afternoon, claiming the district has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA states local government entities must make reasonable modifications for persons with disabilities.
Nonn, who was the top vote-getter in last November’s election, says he needs assistance reading and interpreting documents during school board meetings. He claims the district has not made those reasonable modifications. He also said he’s been met with hostility from three of the four other school board trustees. Leff Brown, says Nonn, has been the only trustee willing to offer any type of assistance.
The district, according to Nonn, has provided certain technology-based assistance such as accessible machine-readable electronic documents for him to read on his computer. “While this accessible technology is helpful, it is not a complete solution,” Nonn said. “I simply need the district to let me use my own independent aide during public meetings at no cost to the district. For over three months, they have refused to provide me with a reason why the independent aide I am currently using is not acceptable. They seem to be determined to litigate the issue out of political spite.”
Superintendent Dr. Robert Haley, Trustees Marc Orloff and Jennifer Wiltermood and School Board President Tracy Farrell were all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
During a special school board meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 14, Nonn was without an aide while the other board members pored over documents and observed a PowerPoint presentation.
Nonn said neither Orloff, Wiltermood nor Farrell offered any help. Orloff, Wiltermood and Farrell over the years have proved to be reliable votes in board meetings for Haley on just about any issue. None has ever cast a no vote for any issue Haley favors. One could say that if they were to form a singing group, a good name for them would be Robert Haley and the Rubberstamps.
Nonn’s choice for his independent aide is Janet Lowery, who tried to serve as his aide at a school board meeting in December. She was asked to leave the area where the trustees sit but Nonn insisted she stay. After a heated discussion between Haley and Nonn, Orloff, Wiltermood and Farrell voted to adjourn the meeting. On Tuesday, Lowery again tried to serve as Nonn’s aide as he toured a special education program at Rancho Cotate High but again was told she could not be his assistant.
“My request, like so many others, is frustratingly simple,” Nonn said. “It doesn't require any money or extraordinary effort on the part of the district administration. I am blind. I need my independent aide to sit next to me and help me access information at public school board meetings. Why can't we just pull up an extra chair to the table?”
Nonn laments what he perceives to be a waste of resources on the district’s part.
“My lawyers and I tried for months to reach a settlement with the district through negotiations to avoid a lengthy and costly legal battle,” Nonn said. “But if the district superintendent and other trustees insist on denying my right to accommodations, and so, prevent me from functioning fully as a trustee, I feel there is no other choice.”
Nonn said if he prevails in this case and there is a monetary award, he’ll donate the full amount to the Education Foundation of Cotati-Rohnert Park.