All board members were present for Peoria Unified School District’s March 9th, 2023, governing board meeting.
- David Sandoval
- Heather Rooks
- Melissa Ewing
- Rebecca Hill
- Bill Sorensen (participating virtually, dropped off mid-meeting)
The agenda was modified, reordering action items to follow the recognition ceremony. The motion to adopt the agenda was approved unanimously.
Approval of Rehire Lists for the Issuance of Contracts for Certified Staff, Related Service Providers, Psychologists, and Administrators for the 2023-2024 School Year
Each year, the Peoria Unified School District governing board approves the rehire list, enabling the district administration to issue contracts for certified staff, related service providers, psychologists, and administrators.
Several community members spoke on this agenda item, mentioning specific staff members by name. The first speaker accused a science teacher of presenting high school students with sexually explicit material in the form of a PowerPoint. While she refused to repeat the language from the lesson, she clarified that she had emailed the board a copy of the presentation and spoken with several members of district administration regarding this matter. Frustrated that the teacher was on the renewal list, the speaker said, “I had a very respectful conversation and the fact that this woman is still employed by PUSD is repulsive and it’s disheartening. I am truly flabbergasted that you didn’t listen to what I had to say.”
As Mr. Sandoval calls the second speaker, he reminds public participants that it is important to stay focused on the issues versus the person because mentioning the names of personnel can be seen as a personal attack. He reminds everybody that these staff members have families, children, parents, and spouses and reiterates the need to focus on the issues without naming individuals.
The second speaker starts her comments by naming another specific teacher. She is upset that a teacher sent an internal email to fellow staff members supporting Transgender Day. According to the speaker, she “was caught using school email to push your pronouns onto her kids and staff and told them she wanted everyone to participate and use pronouns. For her students and staff to wear transgender colors for celebrating the transgender day.”
The final public speaker on this agenda item speaks against an Athletic Director for a PUSD school, saying that her daughter was stuck in a locker room, hunkered down in a stall when an opposing school’s football team took over the locker room on a Monday night make-up game.
After the public speakers, the board discusses the rehire list. Mrs. Rebecca Hill says, “I do really expect our teachers to do better. I do, I find it difficult to approve all the contracts when there are obvious teachers that are not fulfilling their job obligations, and they’re not keeping our kids safe, and they’re not following our policies.”
Sandoval reminds the board that the focus of this agenda item is the approval of the rehire list and that there is a formal process to go through to address complaints and issues. He asks that the board stay centered around the agenda item.
Mrs. Heather Rooks agrees with Hill, saying, “I think we need to take a hard look at some of the rehires on the list, and that’s what they’re asking us to do tonight, is rehire every single person on every PowerPoint slide here.” Rooks believes that some individuals are not meeting her expectations for consideration of rehire. She states her belief that all staff members are supposed to be leaders, and after hearing the public comments, she cannot approve some of the individuals on the rehire list.
Dr. Bill Sorensen provides his comments, stating that he believes everyone deserves the right to due process. He says that accountability for these individuals being spoken about falls in the hands of the superintendent, as that is his responsibility.
Mrs. Melissa Ewing asks for clarification on due process. Laura Vesely, Chief Personnel Officer, clarifies: “There are statutory requirements, president Sandoval members of the board, that we, as a school district, must follow both for probationary teachers and for continuing teachers. We also seek legal counsel when we go through due process at times, and what I can share is due process has been given, we have followed process, and we will continue to follow process.”
Rooks asks Superintendent Dr. Reynolds if, as the leader, he is comfortable with all three of these employees who have been spoken about tonight being allowed to be in this district. Reynolds responds, “I’m not going to speak about individual personnel issues. I can say that I’m confident in our human resources department, very confident in the work that they do to address any issues that come up, and that every employee on this list is deemed re-hirable.” Sandoval agrees and reiterates Reynolds’s statement.
I can say that I’m confident in our human resources department, very confident in the work that they do to address any issues that come up, and that every employee on this list is deemed re-hirable.– Dr. Reynolds
Ewing clarifies that approving the rehire list would not stop any due process or investigation by the district. She is concerned that rejecting the rehire list would be detrimental to the district, as the delay of that many contracts could cause PUSD to lose many employees.
Hill, mentioning the staff members by name, says she’d like to make a motion to remove two of the staff members listed from the rehire list and approve the rehire list without those teachers. Mrs. Vesely suggests that if the board would like to move forward with this change, they seek legal counsel as some statutory regulations and processes need to be followed to make that decision. Ignoring the recommendation, Rooks seconds Hill’s motion to remove the teachers from this list.
The motion to approve the rehire list and authorize the issuance of contracts for Certified Staff, Related Service Providers, Psychologists, and Administrators for the 2023-2024 school year, without the two named teachers fails, Hill and Rooks voting yea, Sandoval, Sorensen, and Ewing voting nay.
After reminding the audience to refrain from outbursts, the motion to approve the rehire list and authorize the issuance of contracts for Certified Staff, Related Service Providers, Psychologists, and Administrators for the 2023-2024 school year, as initially presented passes three to two, Rooks and Hill voting nay.
It is worth noting that Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Rooks voted against renewing the contracts of thousands of Peoria Unified School District employees for their concerns about two teachers based on two public comments.
Approval of Retention Stipend for Eligible Peoria Unified Employees: Certified, Classified, and Administrators for the SY 2023-2024
The board is to consider the approval of retention stipends for eligible certified, classified, and administrators within the Peoria Unified School District. Based on available funds in the budget, the administration recommends that the retention stipends be adjusted to $500 at this time, with a total cost to the district of $2.1M, including benefits.
To be eligible for this stipend, employees must be eligible to receive a contract or a letter of reasonable assurance for the fiscal year 2024. They would need to return their contract or letter of reasonable assurance on time and report to work in the new school year. Finally, it is required that they must be employed on the scheduled date of the stipend payment.
The motion to approve the retention stipend passes four to zero, with Mr. Sorensen absent at the time of vote.
Approval of Administrative Appointment- Executive Director for Exceptional Student Services Beginning July 1st, 2023
The district administration recommends approving the administrative appointment of Mrs. Lori Garcia as the next executive director of exceptional student services. The district believes Garcia is well-qualified and highly regarded in the district. For the past two years, before this role, she served as one of PUSD’s special education coordinators and has been a director in Alhambra Elementary District for exceptional student services.
A public speaker is present on this agenda item, questioning Garcia’s consideration for this role. Without explicit detail, she points to an email regarding her special needs child’s transportation.
The administration clarifies that the recommendation comes after an interview process with over 20 individuals participating from all the stakeholder groups, and the committee unanimously voted to recommend Garcia for this role.
The motion to appoint Garcia as the executive director for exceptional student services fails, Sandoval and Ewing voting yea, Rooks voting nay, Hill abstaining, and Sorensen was absent for the vote.
Update from Peoria Unified School District regarding this vote: “At the Governing Board meeting on Thursday, March 9, 2023, there was a glitch in the software that the Governing Board used that caused a question as to whether action item, 4.4 – Approval of the Recommendation for Executive Director of Exceptional Student Services, passed. When the Governing Board took action, the software recorded it as failed, when based on the board votes, the item should have passed. The district has received a legal opinion from the Governing Board’s attorney, the district’s attorney, and ASBA’s attorney regarding that the motion to approve Mrs. Lori Garcia as the Executive Director for Exceptional Student Services effective July 1, 2023, did pass with the vote of two yea, one nay, one abstain and one absent. Governing Board policy states, “All motions shall be carried by a majority of the members who vote, or as otherwise required by law.” The legal opinions all clarified that an abstention is not a vote but does count toward a quorum. The legal response specifically states that, “a motion will pass if it is approved by a majority of the members voting on an issue, and an abstention is not a vote. An abstention is equivalent to acquiescing to the vote of the majority.” We are happy to announce that the record of the Governing Board vote shows that Mrs. Lori Garcia was approved to be Peoria’s Executive Director of Exceptional Student Services beginning July 1, 2023.”
Approval of Administrative Appointment – Director of Federal Programs Beginning July 1st, 2023
PUSD administration recommends Mrs. Carey Burns for the Director of Federal Programs administrative appointment. Burns has served as principal for the past 11 years and has also served as an assistant principal. As a turnaround coach, she served with the Arizona Department of Education and the Roosevelt School District.
The motion to appoint Burns as the Director of Federal Programs passes with Sandoval, Hill, Rooks, and Ewing voting yea and Sorensen absent for the vote.
Mrs. Rebecca Hill: No comments at this time.
Mrs. Heather Rooks: Although she has been advised several times against doing so, Rooks starts her board comments by quoting scripture, a clear violation of the Establishment clause. She says, “First Corinthians 16:13 stay awake, stand firm in your faith. Be brave. Be strong.” Rooks continues discussing her visits to schools and her involvement in the district events and praises the 2023 state champion basketball team from Peoria High School.
First Corinthians 16:13 stay awake, stand firm in your faith. Be brave. Be strong.– Heather Rooks, proselytising from the dais
Addressing several other topics, Rooks covers her research on a mental health grant from 2019, Panorama education surveys, and other off-agenda points of discussion.
Sandoval steps in, reminding the board that they have been given legal advice to avoid discussing items that are not on the agenda due to the risk of open meeting law violations. He also points out to Rooks that while he is a man of faith, it violates law and ethics to recite scripture from their dais.
The public participants of the meeting return to their outbursts, with one heard yelling, “Hang tough, Heather, hang tough. She has the right to express her own opinion.”
Mrs. Melissa Ewing: Ewing also states that she has visited many schools, thanking the principals for the tours she received. She covers several events that she also attended, most notably the DECA 2023 State Career Development Conference. Ewing says she’s proud of all the students who participated and announces several will attend Nationals. She praises various school activities, including the Liberty High School choir concert and Copper Creek and Park Ridge’s student of the month assemblies.
Mr. David Sandoval: Covering a few topics, Sandoval celebrates the Peoria High School boys’ basketball State Championship and the Sunrise Mountain High School girl’s basketball team on their first state title. He also commented on the great work that Peoria’s CTE students do, especially with it being CTE month.
Mrs. Rebecca Hill: Hill gives a shout-out to Sky View Elementary, where she was invited to come out for reading week. She was able to read to Mrs. Reyes’s second-grade class. She says it was a wonderful experience and is very grateful to be a part of it.
Dr. Reynolds: Reynolds celebrates that Canyon Elementary’s Sunflower Center accepted an excellence in education award from the House Education Committee for their exceptional work. He announces that the Peoria High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC team will compete in the 2023 JROTC leadership and academic bowl in Washington, DC, in June, recently advancing through two intense phases of online competition.
Reynolds congratulates Lake Pleasant and Sunset Heights Elementary Schools for participating in the Regional Odyssey of the Mind competition. Both schools have teams advancing to the state competition in Tucson in April.
He recognizes the success of the sports teams and extracurricular programs within the Peoria Unified School District. He celebrates a student who has received a full-ride scholarship to John Hopkins University.
Public comments start around 01:38:00. Five public speakers participate. The topics range from Title IX, thanking social workers, asking for an increase in Student Resource Officers (SROs), and addressing some of the attacks and political rhetoric used against teachers and staff.
A motion to approve the consent agenda was approved unanimously. Click to review the entire consent agenda.
Legal Presentation on Title IX as it Relates to Use of School Restrooms – Mrs. Lisa Anne Smith, Attorney, DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, P.C.
Sandoval starts this presentation by reminding viewers and board members that this agenda item is informative about the law, not to address specific questions about students or make recommendations on policy decisions.
Legal counsel for the district, Mrs. Lisa Anne Smith, presents Title IX, specifically relating to the use of school restrooms by transgender students. In conclusion, the attorney states that several cases have not been ruled on to become national law or precedent but that the Federal Courts, as they relate to Arizona, have generally ruled in favor of transgender protections. She also clarifies that the 9th Circuit court has made it clear that cisgender students do not have a constitutional right to bathrooms to exclude transgender students but has not yet ruled on whether or not transgender students have a right to use a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
After the attorney’s presentation, the room is again opened up for public comments. They start at 02:31:20. The public speakers are divided in supporting trans students, with some arguing that the courts and Title IX have gotten it wrong. A warning to viewers, several speakers misgender transgender students and repeat hateful rhetoric of the LGBTQ community.
During their board comments, Rooks and Hill both call for a policy to be instituted that would prohibit trans students from restrooms of their gender identity to protect girls. Rooks has previously called for an executive session regarding Title IX and bathroom use to be moved to a public session, against the advice of any qualified attorney. Hill quotes her religious beliefs as justification, with no objective evidence of this being a problem that requires a solution through policy.
Ewing reiterates that court rulings from the 9th circuit are precedent in the State of Arizona. The attorney says that cisgender girls do not have a legal right to prohibit trans girls from using the restroom of their gender identity. Sandoval shows concern, stating that he wants to let everyone know that they are being listened to and that he takes matters seriously. He believes that PUSD must adapt to new, specific situations and agrees there is much work to do on these issues.
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