By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa school board is still waiting for a second opinion on whether its vote to close Doyle Park Elementary School to make way for a French American Charter School was tainted by conflict of interest.
Board president Larry Haenel said Thursday that the matter was being reviewed by a law firm that specializes in legal matters affecting education institutions and public agencies.
Last week, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area protested the vote and demanded the board rescind its March 15 decision.
At issue is a key vote by trustee Tad Wakefield, who prior to voting acknowledged that he had expressed interest in having his two young children attend the charter school. He also said publicly that he had asked the board’s legal counsel Bob Henry if there was any conflict, and that he was told there was none.
Haenel said that Henry laid out his legal view during a closed board session meeting Wednesday. The board now is waiting for a second legal opinion from the law firm of Lozano Smith, which serves school districts statewide and has a Santa Rosa office.
The board will review that assessment, which was requested at the beginning of the week, “before making any decision about how to respond to this matter,” Haenel said.
The lawyers’ committee in an email sent to the board last week said common law doctrine and the school’s own policies should have compelled Wakefield to recuse himself, not only from the vote but from any part of the discussion leading up to the vote.
But Henry said that the law allows trustees to be interested parties when a board acts as a legislative body. His opinion was sent to the lawyers’ committee after the board’s closed session meeting on Wednesday.
Cecilia Chen, one of the committee’s lead attorneys, said Thursday that she could not comment on Henry’s opinion because she had not had a chance to review it in detail.
She said she will be meeting with other attorneys at the lawyers’ committee on Monday to consider the matter.
The committee was alerted to the school closure a day after the vote by a Santa Rosa group called “Poder,” which supports Latino parents with kids in the district. Chen and other attorneys with the civil rights committee then began to review newspaper reports and school board documents.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.