Two members of the disbanded local school council at Prosser Vocational High School are suing the School Reform Board, charging that it failed to conduct a proper hearing before removing them and so violated their constitutional right to due process.
“You have a situation here where an appointed body removed elected officials by fiat,” says Laurie Elkin, the lawyer for the dismissed LSC members. “It would be akin to Mayor Daley’s office summarily removing City Council members without giving them any notice of what they’d done wrong or giving them an opportunity to clear themselves.”
Last fall, schools CEO Paul Vallas and the School Board invoked a hastily crafted “educational crisis” policy to dismiss the principal, an assistant principal and the entire local school council at Prosser, which had a long history of internal conflict. The board subsequently amended the policy, but some reform groups still contend it lacks proper due process.
The ousted LSC members who have filed suit are Danuta Wasilewska and Edna Purches. In mid-February, U.S. District Court Judge Elaine E. Bucklo denied their request to be reinstated. According to Elkin, the judge said it would be unfair to do that because it would mean displacing LSC members who subsequently were elected.
Elkin says the plaintiffs will continue the suit in the hopes the judge will rule that the board acted illegally and thus prompt it to change its ways.
Two other plaintiffs in the case contend that the board’s crisis policy threatens their rights as both LSC members and voters; they are Jan Budzislewski of the Gallileo Academy LSC and Eric Outten of the Burnside Academy and Hirsch High LSCs.
The constitution states that without “due process of law” the government can’t take anything away from a citizen—including an elected office.
“The LSC members at Prosser got all the process they were due,” says Robert Markin, the board’s chief attorney. “The Office of Accountability did an extensive investigation, and each person involved received a notice of the charges, which was translated into Polish. Everyone got a chance to respond to the charges at two meetings with the Office of Accountability.”
The Prosser case caused an early rift between Vallas and some reform groups, and Vallas clearly is irked by the lawsuit. At a February forum organized by the CityWide Coalition for School Reform, Vallas accused “some groups” of “beating a dead horse.”
Outten heads Schools First, a parent/LSC organization initially affiliated with the group Designs for Change.