School board follows Sunshine Laws
Being a school board member anywhere is a tough job. You have to make decisions that affect the school and its staff and listen to the recommendations of the district superintendent. There are school policies that govern what you are supposed to do, and what your responsibilities are. Sometimes the decisions are easy and sometimes they are difficult.
In Mancos, there are five board members on the Mancos Re-6 board of education. Policies which are in place tell them what they need to do when it comes to policymaking, educational planning, staffing, financial resources, school facilities, communication with the public and judicial decisions. The policy also says that "the Board may exercise the above powers and duties only when convened in a legally constituted meeting."
A legally constituted meeting, according to the Sunshine Laws, is "any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or other means of communication." The once-monthly meetings that the school board has are open to the public and are announced or posted at least 24 hours ahead of the meeting.
The school board, or any board, needs to be publicly available to anyone, acknowledging the Sunshine Laws and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In the February board meeting of the Mancos school board, one board member, Beverly Humiston, was censured for two activities. One activity was a remark that she was supposed to have made in a board meeting in February 2012 that was considered derogatory. Other board members heard the remark, where she was accused of using the term 'wetback' to refer to a person of Hispanic origin. The other was disclosing personal information about school personnel that was not meant to be for the public. "That breach of confidentiality issue was a personnel e-mail that went out to all the board members about an employee," said board president Monty Guiles. "She took that information and publicly redistributed it in a public setting", Guiles said. As a consequence, Humiston will not receive any confidential employee information, or be permitted access to any information, "pending reasonable assurance that she will comply with confidentiality requirements in the future."
The school policy addresses that issue - a board member should "take no private action that will compromise the board or administration and respect the confidentiality of information that is privileged under applicable laws."
"We cannot remove her right to speak or vote, though, during board meetings," said Tim Hunter, board vice president.
A few days prior to that board meeting, Humiston was given a letter by Guiles and Hunter that asked her to resign. There was Guiles, Hunter and Humiston, in superintendent Brian Hanson's office, during school hours at this time. It was a meeting that was called by Guiles, and, after checking with the school district's attorney, according to the Sunshine Laws, they didn't have to announce the meeting if they were not conducting school business. "We were discussing the conduct of a board member," he said. "And it was openly stated."
Humiston has not resigned her position. "I did not do anything wrong," said Humiston. "I will not resign my position on the board. I didn't do anything to resign."
Humiston is an elected official and not an employee of the school district. The town of Mancos elected her in November 2011, when she ran unopposed for her seat. Since a board member is not an employee, but an elected official, there are three ways that a board member can be removed, according to Hunter. "These are if they miss three meetings in a row and they are unexcused, a recall election, and if they resign," he said.
The situation that has come to the attention of the board is one that president Guiles said is very unfortunate. "It's too bad that you get people together, in a volunteer position, and they don't do what they're supposed to do," he said.
Hunter said, "Individual board members have no discretion individually. But that fact is not clear to some staff members so it's easy for someone to abuse that power. There is intimidation there, unintentional or not."
The Mancos school policy also says, "All powers of the Board lie in its action as a group. Individual Board members exercise authority only as they vote at a legal meeting of the Board and when the board has lawfully delegated authority to them." According to this policy, each individual board member can only act as an authority of a voting member of that board.
The school board has been in constant contact with their attorney, making sure that the censure resolutions were about tangible incidents and follow the law. "Our attorney said we could censure for those things without anyone questioning it," Guiles said. "There were some things that we couldn't censure a board member for, because they were more intangible. But these things - the language and the breach of confidentiality - were things we could actually censure her for."
The school board confers with their attorney, Darryl Farrington of Semple, Farrington and Everall, P.C. in Denver, on issues that come up in the course of their business. The school board is careful about following the Sunshine Laws in all that they do.
Humiston said that she was "blindsided", in her opinion, by the reading of the censure resolutions. "When you're blindsided, you're at a loss," she said. "I am not guilty of anything they said."
Hunter said, "We don't allow bullying in our schools and we're not going to allow that with board members. We try to teach the kids that and I'm personally intolerant of it in adults. Instead of talking about issues that are good for the kids, I have to talk about this. It's taking away from things that are good for the kids."
"My heart is in this town and in this school," Humiston said. "I would never do anything to jeopardize this school district or these kids."
Board member Wesley Rivera said that she had had no idea that the board was going to censure her. "I did abstain (from the vote), because I do have social contacts with (Humiston) and I would prefer not to get into the middle of a fight. I've known her for quite a while." Rivera wanted to be on the school board because she has a daughter in the school. "My goal was to be involved in the school," she said.
"The censure resolutions were the board's attempt to protect the school, Guiles said. "We felt that we had to do something. We had received complaints from faculty and staff - and other schools - and we had to look into them. When they come to you, you have to listen. We have to defend our staff."
"I don't talk like that," said Humiston, referring to their accusing her of using derogatory language in the board meeting. "And for them to bring something up that happened a year ago is not right. They're just trying to sling mud."
"I am totally innocent," she said.
The school board will continue to look into this incident and any complaints that follow.
"This is nothing personal. This is strictly boardsmanship and the good of our kids," Hunter said.
For information about the Colorado Sunshine Laws, you can go to http://www.nfoic.org/colorado-foia-laws or http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Colorado_Sunshine_Law_for_open_meetings