At last Thursday night’s Santa Monica City Council meeting (see Council Delays SMMUSD Allocation), Council members spent several hours debating whether it’s within the Council’s purview to ask the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education to rescind the gag orders that have been imposed on parents of children with special needs who have made agreements with the District separate from Federally-protected Individualized Education Plans.
Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz and Council member Bobby Shriver believe that the gag orders should be rescinded before the Council approves the full $7.2 million allocation that City staff has recommended be paid to the District.
Other Council members disagreed, apparently siding with Ken Genser’s assertion that the Council has neither the authority nor the right to set or change District policy.
We agree with Katz and Shriver.
The City and the District have been financial partners for some time and, from the beginning, the Council has more or less ordered that the District’s financial management be an open process to ensure that the community knows that its money is being well spent. As it stands now, the Board of Education itself doesn’t know how much money is being spent on these agreements – individually or collectively. It could be too little money, or too much. The agreements themselves could be unreasonable, or punitive, or insufficient, but, as long as the gag order is in force, we’ll never know.
Gag orders are imposed for only one reason: to protect a person, institution or other entity. The gag order that the District imposed on its departing CFO was clearly to prevent him from criticizing the District. Surely, the City, which allocated $6.1 million to the District last year and is set to allocate $7.2 million this year has a right to hear whatever the District’s former chief financial officer has to say about the circumstances that led him to resign.
The gag orders imposed on parents who enter into individual agreements with the District are clearly not designed to protect them. The parents who addressed the Council spoke of living in fear, and we have heard similar stories from other parents.
We can only conclude that the gag orders are meant to protest the District staff members who negotiate the contracts. But if they’re doing a good job, why do they need protection? And from whom?
As Crane said, the Special Education District Advisory Committee asked the School Board twice to look into the matter, and was ignored.
By ignoring the requests and permitting this practice to continue, the Board has essentially supported it, and has behaved irresponsibly in doing so. If the Council, which represents all the members of this community, including the parents who have been gagged, does not look into this matter it will be equally irresponsible.