There's a lot to digest about what happened tonight because it's really truly corrupt. It's the sort of plot you'd expect from a bad Lifetime movie about a reckless school board member wreaking havoc on the community.
Except, I'm not making this up.
When I arrived to the board meeting there were stanchions set up outside of the building. Clearly the district was expecting a crowd. Chairs filled the lobby and everyone was required to check-in at a table prior to entering the board room. I felt tense. I scanned the room. It was full of mostly "safe" people but I waited anxiously for Brian to get there. He had to pick up and drop off AB, before heading over.
Police presence was on hand for the first half of the meeting. That was nice.
There were conversations of people looking to borrow extra time from others until we learned that you got three minutes, and someone could not cede their time. This was positive for me. I had been working on cutting my comments to two minutes.
A concerned citizen showed up and immediately starting asking district personnel if they'd be banning people from holding up signs.
The board meeting started in typical fashion for the first meeting of the month. The student reports are truly a joy. It really is such a nice reminder of why we're there, when we listen to the students, see their personalities and perspectives, and learn about what's going on for the students at their respective high schools.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Hayek gave a really excellent presentation on the Measure I work that took place over the summer. TONS of improvements/renovations at different school sites. The visual before and after pictures really helped a bit lengthier presentation and I thought it was presented really well. It's not uncharacteristic for Sandee Everett to ask a question or two. But, Sandee Everett asked multiple questions, having Dr. Hayek scroll back on multiple pages, back and forth, and asked him to clarify and then re-clarify answers. Let me preface this by saying I'm not upset about a school board member who asks important questions — especially regarding bond money, school site improvements, etc. But this, well this reeked heavily of "stalling."
We were then treated to a really excellent presentation by Superintendent of Student Support Services on ... Student Support/LCAP #4 Goal: Social and Emotional Support. She shared a lot about what the district is doing to reach out to families (even non-English speaking families) to provide intervention when possible, and to poll students for data regarding how a variety of factors affect them like anxiety, family life and sadness. There was a noticeable increase in percentages for our high school-aged students, across all factors, anxiety/overwhelming pressure topping the list.
Sandee Everett spent a significant amount of time asking questions about the counselor internship program on campus and training etc., hoping to prove to people she has some counseling experience. A significant amount of time on just this topic, for Sandee Everett, whose questions really had nothing to do about the kids, but more about her trying to hijack the conversation and deflect the fact that the community is aware she lied on her ballot designation claiming to be a school counselor when she is not and never was.
Then we hit public comments. I didn't keep count on this one, but I'm going to estimate it was about 10-12 comments. A few, such as Bill Gorback's, pertained to social and emotional support for students, or other concerns on campus, with about 10 of these public comments directly commenting on the censure of Dr. Betsy Connolly.
If you're just catching up, Sandee Everett put forth a frivolous agenda action item to censure Dr. Connolly based on her disagreement with Dr. Connolly for things she's written online. I know what you're thinking. Smells like a steaming turd of bitter retaliation timed right before the election for press and to rile up their voter base. AMIRITE? I AM!!! And you are too, if you picked that category for $500!
Sandee Everett's basis for censure was based on a few pieces:
She wrote (or someone wrote for her):
1) "On October 17, 2017, Board member Connolly posted a picture on a public social media group of a public speaker and made disparaging remarks regarding this public speaker."
CONTEXT: There was a speaker, from Camarillo, named Mike Smith, who came to a few CVUSD board meetings, (I spotted him sitting with candidate Amy Chen at a board meeting). This speaker's rage and body language sent off warning signals for many community members. I say that with sincerity. Upon my first exposure to him speaking at a school board meeting, I truly felt unease in this man's presence. I checked to see how close I was to the exit. I am not exaggerating this. I was not alone in this. His presence and rage made so many uncomfortable that security was present for the next few meetings.
But, there's more to this story. Sandee Everett wants to pretend Mike Smith is a "victim" of disparaging remarks. See, she was scheduled to give a co-lecture with Mike Smith on: "Saving Our Children's Minds: Fighting the Public School System." After backlash (why is a public school board trustee fighting our public school system?!), Sandee Everett backed out and pretended she didn't know what she was scheduled to speak for. Apparently she was the only one.
Mike Smith went on to speak, and those who attended (including an Acorn reporter) witnessed Mike Smith show an enlarged photo of the board room's audience to his audience, and identify/point to people in the picture as "good guys" and "bad guys". He also showed people's minor children as part of this presentation. This guy isn't even a CV resident. He came with specific intent to rile up controversy at our board meetings and hasn't been at one since last Sept/Oct. Dr. Connolly had every right to feel uneasy and creeped out.
2) "On August 21, 2018, Board member Connolly wrote discriminatory remarks on a public social media account regarding the religious beliefs of a school board candidate."
CONTEXT: A speaker (who has described herself as Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy's campaign co-chair) who attempted to have a teacher fired last year because the teacher attended the women's march (I'm being serious), spoke at the school board meeting a few weeks ago. During her school board comment she went off about a teacher wearing a "vagina hat" (pussy hat) and no one knew what she was talking about (except me, and maybe you if you were here for that shit show last year when she was pissed I shared the public post she made about it begging for it to go viral — she didn't get the reaction she was looking for on my page :( ).
So, when the school board comment was discussed here on my page, because the speaker also took time to talk about me in her public comments, and in a letter to the Acorn, and on a Twitter page she's made about me (seriously, these people want to wear my skin) ... Dr. Connolly simply asked a clarifying question, upon reading my post, and was able to then understand why the speaker was talking about "vagina hats." I'm not sure what is "discriminatory" about that.
3) "On August 29, 2018, Board member Connolly unethically used her district and board member email contact list to send out a political email that disparaged fellow board members."
CONTEXT: The emails were sent from Dr. Connolly's personal email address, not her board email address, and were sent to contacts in her email list that have communicated with her throughout her time as a trustee. They were not illegally obtained and it was not an illegal communication. Did she mean to send the letter to everyone in her contact list? No. That being said, it's still not illegal.
4) "On September 6, 2018, after enduring criticism during public comments at the Board meeting of September 4, as well as enduring similar criticism in the form of a public letter by the same community member to a local newspaper, Board member Connolly engaged in a social media conversation that mocked this parent and her comments."
CONTEXT: Tweet attached. (It's not the entire conversation, in which Dr. Connelly was having an in depth exchange with Dawn, a reporter from The Acorn. Sandee chose to exclude all of that.
Ummmm, I agree.
BUT, That's not all. Sandee also attached a screenshot that was cropped, eliminating identities, attempting to attribute it to Dr. Connolly. It was not a tweet from Dr. Connolly. Even when confronted about this, Sandee refused to acknowledge it.
OK, NOW THAT YOU'RE CAUGHT UP....
Back to the public comments. About 10 people showed up to speak tonight in what I'll describe as a "hit job" against Dr. Connolly. It was very coordinated. You could easily identify talking points down to the specific school board code some speakers highlighted that Sandee Everett then read over and over and over and over again. But another thing they did, was they had people come up and speak on behalf of the Contis, including Dominic Conti himself. For those not around during the Conti case in 2013, (like ME), here's one of many articles. Long story short, without being disrespectful: a girl was sexually assaulted by a classmate, her brother & dad took justice into their own hands and beat the guy up on school grounds.
Look, I'm not going to get into a debate about who was right or wrong. The guy who sexually harassed the girl was wrong (this sentence has been edited for incorrect choice of words last night. It was sexual harassment NOT sexual assault). I felt for her brother, who spoke tonight, and for her (a different person came up and read a statement from her), and I don't invalidate their experiences about what happened or their feelings. But, I don't believe the district was in a position to defend what happened on school grounds, no matter how you slice it. All that aside, it was far before my time and not something I feel comfortable offering judgment on. I do know it is a case that divided the community and that more than half a decade later, the tension is still high when it comes to viewpoints on the case and how the district handled it.
Candidate Amy Chen sat with Dominic Conti, along with other vocal board majority supporters, and they were DOWNRIGHT GIDDY when Dominic, and others went up to read comments on behalf of the Conti family. The smirks on their faces, I have to be, honest — talk about using a family's pain for personal agenda motivations.
That being said, this quickly turned into a public comment "hearing" of Dr. Connolly for board decisions she was part of ... back in 2013? Not even outlined in the agenda as part of the reason for censure? It was bizarre and absurd, but also just inappropriate.
While all of this was going on, I did start to notice that all of the pro-censure commenters were speaking during public comments ... which is unusual.
Here's how commenting works:
You can make a public comment about anything you want to during public comments at the beginning of the meeting, but typically, if you're speaking to a specific agenda item, you fill out your speaker card, indicate that agenda item, and speak when that agenda item is actually up for discussion. Sure, some people speak during public comments instead of during agenda items because they don't know the difference or can't stay for the entire meeting, but, it's unusual for EVERYONE (of the same speaking points) to speak during public comments. Especially people who know how school board meetings work. I noticed that many speakers left almost immediately after giving their comments which I found odd as well. These people gave enraged, passionate, angry speeches demanding the censure .... but ALL left before the agenda item was even brought up for discussion. Not a single one of them stayed for the actual vote.
Sets off some questions... right? At least it did for me. Maybe I go to too many board meetings.
WELL LET ME TELL YOU WHY!
Sandee BAMBOOZLED US.
When it came time to make a motion for the censure, Sandee Everett, with a huge smirk on her face (it was a big fucking smirk, let's be honest), wouldn't do it. John Andersen had to consult while Sandee sat there silently. She said she decided she wanted to withdraw the motion. After we had all been at the meeting for hours, after she got her press in the paper, and after her people had gone up and slammed Dr. Connolly for an hour at the beginning of the meeting. And, knowing there were 20 speakers waiting to speak in support of Dr. Connolly.
Sandee didn't wan't to hear us speak. You see, she knew there was NO BASIS for the censure, but she wanted to retaliate against Dr. Connolly for sheer political gain. So she carelessly attached a few screenshots of Dr. Connolly's "poor behavior" in order to set the stage to have community members come in and dredge up issues stemming from a case FIVE YEARS PRIOR, because Sandee KNOWS how much this issue DIVIDED the community and wanted to bolster that rage leading into absentee ballots going out.
Please digest this behavior for what it is.
It was a political stunt. Sandee Everett used district and board meeting time for a political stunt.
Sandee Everett wanted bad press for Dr. Connolly and to link her to CVUSD candidates Jenny, Bill and Cindy (WHO I FULL ENDORSE AND SUPPORT), in hopes of tarnishing the Conejo Together momentum and putting a bad light on solid candidates who will work together to make decisions that are best for our district and our community. Speakers who spoke on behalf of Sandee's censure motion also tried to make this connection, basically highlighting that it was simply a political ploy. Their motives are rather transparent when you lay it all out and they actually start talking.
It would appear that Dr. Connolly knew Sandee Everett was going to pull this bullshit, so she had Pat Phelps call the motion anyway, forcing the board to hear public comments and document the discussion because DR. CONNOLLY IS A BADASS and isn't here for Sandee Everett's fake ass shit and far-right political agenda on a public school board. Pat Phelps was visibly upset but made the motion for Dr. Connolly.
Then it was time for speakers, and I was first!
So, my comment got cut short by John Andersen. It's not a hill I'm willing to die but, but for the record, he interrupted me to offer a warning that I was going to cause complications for myself with my speech.
Like what complications exactly? Hate pages about me? Community members in support of the board majority following me around in public filming me and my daughters, and posting them in derogatory fashion? Threats of violence from fake accounts that have led to us installing a home security system? Board members writing about me to constituents and the papers? Comments about me made by candidates like Angie Simpson, who supports Mike Dunn and Sandee Everett?
What complications exactly, I'm wondering.
I know he meant to, but he forgot to give me my full allotted time. So here are my full remarks:
Good Evening Board,
Wow, it’s been 9 months since we were all gathered here to talk about another board member’s censure. Mike Dunn’s. It remains fresh in my memory, as you can imagine, because the entire board voted unanimously to censure Mike Dunn, after he emailed my employer and threatened retaliation against his local business if my employer didn’t silence me from speaking at school board meetings. I was just four weeks into my maternity leave. Thank you, Mike, for that experience. I’ve learned a lot about the power of an elected representative and how it can be used to intimidate outspoken constituents.
I am sorry, Mike, that your wife didn’t allow you to attend that censure meeting. The nearly 300 community members that came had some interesting things to say about your behavior.
That censure, was Mike Dunn's second — his third censure was thrown out on a technicality — was initiated by Dr. Connolly. And so I’m here this evening to say thank you to Dr. Connolly. As a parent with young children entering this district next year, you listened to me and my concerns. You did not threaten me. You did not threaten my employer. It’s clear that you value and protect the diverse voices of all parents and stakeholders in this community. Thank you for doing the right thing, and for encouraging others to do so as well.
Frankly, I’m appalled to be up here this evening. This censure item submitted by Ms. Sandee Everett is reckless, irresponsible and unethical. It’s a gross abuse of power to monopolize board meeting time to further an extremist agenda just prior to absentee ballots going out for the November election, and frankly, Ms. Everett, you should be ashamed.
It appears to me that Ms. Everett, who is directly responsible for the recent Brown Act violation that resulted in a formal reprimand from the district attorney’s office earlier this year, has forgotten why she’s here. The students. Are they not worthy of your time, Ms. Everett? Have you forgotten about them?
Beyond students, it appears Ms. Everett has also forgotten whom she represents. Let me be crystal clear: It’s certainly not far-right extremists from Camarillo, like Mike Smith, who Ms. Everett was scheduled to give a co-lecture on, titled: “Saving our Children’s Minds: Fighting the Public School System.” After receiving backlash, Ms. Everett chose not to attend, but does that really make a difference? I can’t fathom why it would ever be appropriate to give a lecture on fighting our public school system, as a public school board trustee.
Ms. Everett, you’re here to serve the constituents you represent, which includes parents like me. Parents who don’t agree with your overreach into the selection and review process of our curriculum, in which you’ve self-inserted your own personal decency clause.
I learned something interesting last night upon further review of the agenda item regarding the censure. One of the items Ms. Everett attached was deliberately cropped to hide identities, in order to allow Ms. Everett to give the false impression that Dr. Connolly wrote the tweet. It’s been since discovered that “the tweet evidence” is actually from a parody account that doesn’t appear to be affiliated with Dr. Connolly in any capacity. If Ms. Everett needs to deliberately deceive the public, and the board, in her attempts to censure Dr. Connolly, surely we can see this for what it is.
I’m embarrassed for our district right now. I’m embarrassed by the actions of board members, such as Ms. Everett, who have chosen to use this time to create yet another contrived controversy to further divide the community, in hopes of riling up a voter base for an election season, putting the students LAST, once again.
Stop this nonsense. Get back to what you’re here to be doing. I won’t display Senator Lindsay Graham theatrics tonight, but I’ll borrow a recent quote of his: "Boy, y'all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham.” You may be in your seats now, and until 2020, but November is coming.
Mike Dunn and Sandee Everett refused to make eye contact with me, even when I call out their behavior. Sandee Everett refused to look at a number of speakers until people called it out so much, she did.
20 other speakers spoke up in support of Dr. Connolly. Candidate Angie Simpson chose that time to campaign on an anti-bullying (although she actually supports the behavior of Mike Dunn, the hate pages online about me which she has interacted on, is part of a Facebook group that was planning to picket my private residence, so ... honestly, I'm not buying that crock of shit coming out of her mouth. She also used her time at a candidate forum to specifically make remarks about me, which doesn't feel appropriate given her "I'm going to rise up" schtick).
And then the discussion.
It was fascinating to watch someone's ego allow bad decisions in real time. Sandee Everett wanted so badly to get the one-up on Dr. Connolly that she started demanding Dr. Connolly apologize. (Funny, she never asked that of Dunn, who never apologized.) Dr. Connolly stood by her actions and words and then the vote took place.
Sandee voted: YES TO CENSURE
Dr. Connolly and Pat Phelps voted: NO TO CENSURE
Mike Dunn and John Andersen voted: ABSTAIN FROM VOTE
The motion FAILED. Dr. Connolly was NOT censured.
Mike Dunn wasn't going to risk aligning with a losing party on a vote and left Sandee out on her own deserted island during his re-election year. SMART. I'd like to believe that there is still a small part of John Andersen that does know right from wrong and that he exercised that here.
But here's what really pisses me off. Sandee Everett did this deliberately. She was careless and reckless with her censure motion, attaching "evidence" that wasn't even applicable or admissable when source was researched. She, and I believe Mike Dunn, along with slate candidates Amy Chen and Angie Simpson, organized community members to speak on specific talking points to dredge up division and anger in the community once more.
It's also clear that these people KNEW SANDEE'S PLAN. They knew to speak during public comments. They knew it was "ok" to leave far before the censure discussion even happened because they were given the head's up there actually wasn't going to be one.
In all of this, Sandee Everett neglected her duty to THE STUDENTS. What about the students? WHAT ABOUT THE STUDENTS YOU'RE HERE TO SERVE AND SUPPORT SANDEE?
Sandee Everett should be called upon to resign her position IMMEDIATELY. This was a grossly abusive use of power that wasted district resources for a personal and political vendetta and it has no place in our district.
And, if you're as outraged as I am, head over to Conejo Together and make a donation. We need new representation on that board in November.
Support Jenny Fitzgerald, Bill Gorback and Cindy Goldberg.