After an alleged private school election meeting was interrupted by 30 or so Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District administrators last week at the Rohnert Park Community Center, meeting organizers are saying the move violated several Brown Act regulations. Despite an open district attorney’s office inquiry into the matter, administrators are saying they tried to attend the meeting because they thought it was open and wanted to have a conversation about school safety, a topic they say they have always been passionate about.
The incident occurred Wednesday, April 25 prior to the start of the so-called private school campaign committee meeting when Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Superintendent Robert Haley, along with a large group of teachers and principals tried to walk into the small meeting room space with safety plan binders and clipboards in tow (as seen in the posted video of the incident, https://youtu.be/Ra8jSV99g1Q ).
Its three main organizers and attendees, Anita Rosin, a parent in the Rohnert Park community, Larry Holguin, an education consultant, Maha Gregoretti, an RP middle school teacher and School Board Trustee Tim Nonn, say that the meeting was private and that the group had no right to try and barge into their meeting.
Rosin said the meeting was called for an organizing session for their school district campaign and that it was not meant to be public, nor were any notices or invitations for the meeting given out and that it was clear that it was not a public meeting.
“It was an organizing meeting for the November (school district/board) elections. We meet to plan our strategy and the committee had also invited public safety to do a presentation for a private meeting,” Rosin explained, who also explained the meeting in the video.
The meeting itself had been booked by Gregoretti under the RPCEA (Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association) name in order for the group to get a non-profit discount for the use of the room, so there may have been confusion that it was a union meeting, however, both Rosin and Holguin still claim that the meeting was indeed organized as a private meeting.
Rosin believes the group knew that it was a private meeting and that they deliberately planned to go and “crash” the meeting because it would be an opportunity to conduct more retaliation for speaking out about the need for district improvements.
“It was tense and very harassing. It was all a big show,” Rosin said of the atmosphere in the room. “Haley had invited himself and 30 other people… and it was a hijacking of a meeting. The meeting was scheduled by Maha Gregoretti who has a cease and desist order from her retaliation case. It was invitation only and it wasn’t published anywhere.”
When asked why the group would want to insert themselves in the meeting for retaliation, Rosin said it was because they fell short when it came to school safety plans.
“I think it was because they were caught with their pants down with no proper safety procedures and wanted to show that they have done something after our inspection (of the accessibility and knowledge of school safety plans) and that they had their first safety drill,” Rosin mused.
In an interview with Superintendent Haley and several principals within the district, they all voiced that they believed that it was an open meeting on school safety. They also say that their sole intent for trying to attend the meeting was to have an open and informed discussion regarding school safety, a topic they say they have always cared very deeply about.
“We were contacted by Sgt. Moore from Rohnert Park Public Safety… asking some questions about safety and a community group as I understood it, that had reached out to Rohnert Park Public Safety and Sgt. Moore and he shared with us some of their questions and it made sense that the answers to these questions would come from both the school district and school sites and that they weren’t just Rohnert Park Public Safety type questions. So, we believed that there was going to be some sort of community group discussion about school safety and it really made sense for us to be there,” Haley said. “None of that (that it was an invite only campaign meeting) was known to us prior. It was our understanding that it was some sort of community group that came together.”
Amie Carter, principal of Rancho Cotate High School said since their school staff had underwent training with Sgt. Moore on how to deal with a school shooter attending the community center meeting would have been a good time to answer any safety questions posed towards them.
“Sgt. Moore trained both Scott’s (Scott Johnson, principal of Lawrence Jones Middle School) staff and my staff and the afternoon after he trained our staff about active shooters that it kind of made the point, ‘well I can talk a lot about how to think about that,’ but you really need someone who is part of the school system who can answer more directly about school issues,” Carter said.
In response to community member claims and earlier reports in The Voice that school safety plans weren’t handy and available to the public and that safety drills weren’t thoroughly discussed, the group emphasized that they have always been proactive when it comes to discussing school safety and conducting drills.
“At the beginning of the year we discussed school safety and drills. We’re also on the SSU campus so they have theirs and we have ours and theirs is also not open to the public - the plan itself, because planners plan and that’s kind of the key component,” said Technology High School Principal, Dawn Mawhinney. “Very early on when Columbine and some of the earlier things that happened were sort of black swan events, it (school safety) has been on top of all of our minds ever since… and always the kids safety comes first.”
Despite their claims and their passion for wanting to continue the dialogue on school safety, the trio of meeting organizers still say the incident was in violation of several Brown Act regulations and an Americans with Disabilities Act Violation.
Nonn says he believes the groups’ act constituted nine different code violations, two of which were Brown Act laws; Brown Act Cal. Gov’t Code § 54952.2(b)(1), which stipulates that a majority of a legislative body cannot, outside an authorized meeting, discuss, deliberate or take action on an item that is related to that legislative body, Brown Act Cal. Gov’t Code § 54952.2 , which stipulates that the majority of a legislative body attending a public meeting cannot discuss among themselves public interest issues at a conference or meeting unless it is scheduled and part of the meeting. He is also alleging that their presence violated the school district’s own policy on public action and discussion. Nonn also cites trespassing, obstruction of freedom of movement (Cal. Civil Code 1708.9) and interfering with political action (Cal. Education Code 7053) as the two other violations.
Nonn, who is legally blind, also claims that Haley and Trustee Orloff tried to block him from entering the building and that Trustee Orloff called Nonn a “chicken,” which he says is slander (alleged violation number eight) and violation of ADA law, which states that access to a public place cannot be blocked for someone with disabilities.
“This was all consistent with their tactic of intimidation,” Nonn said. “I already feel vulnerable enough and all of a sudden I hear all these people blocking my way and I tried to walk through, but they were blocking my way in.”
Rosin also says that Haley and the trustee were blocking Nonn and not letting him in, however, in the interview, Haley denied the incident and said that no one was blocked from anything.
Nevertheless, Nonn said he reached out to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office to file a report on the so-called Brown Act violations and that he was taking this event seriously.
“An investigator with the D.A.’s office contacted me and requested all of the statements from people who were there, the videos and other evidence. It looks like they are taking this seriously” Nonn said.
Rosin says Haley’s and the group’s presence also violated Georgetti’s cease and desist order and that the whole incident felt like a mob.
Holguin echoed Rosin’s thoughts, saying despite confusion that the administrators may have thought it was a union meeting, the trio did not extend any invitations to any of the 30 or so people that tried to attend. “We just thought it was a very callus and very unethical thing and I’ve never seen such unscrupulous behavior with adults,” Holguin said. Yet, Haley and the group of principals all still stand by their story, saying their intent to attend the meeting was simply to be part of the conversation of school safety. The group voiced that they would be open to continuing the discussion with community members, perhaps at a different setting.
“Our goal is to teach students to read and to do math, other areas of the curriculum and to eventually make it to the high school level and prepare for graduation and careers, but to get there they need to be safe and that is something that we’re always looking at,” Haley said.