By Lynne Riddle

There’s a rush of emotion I experience when learning an innocent community member or neighbor has been inexplicably harmed for no good reason at all. 

That same mixture of feeling came rushing over me – astonishment, disbelief, sadness and, eventually, rage -- as I left the Dec. 19 Orange Unified School Board meeting. It had just voted, 4-3, to allow the OC Classical Academy (OCCA) to open a charter school in the district using taxpayers’ public school funds. I felt spiritually ill then. Still do.

Who -- or what -- fell victim to the board majority that night? Justice. Fairness. Reason. The rule of law.

Four members simply cut down my hope and belief that the folks elected to our school board will willingly put aside personal political agendas to serve the best interests of all the kids in the OUSD. 

Here’s what happened.  

OCCA had presented a petition to the board for approval to open a charter school. At that point, each of the board members had a duty to grant that petition if, but only if, the petition itself satisfied all the requirements of California’s charter school law.

The board’s task was straightforward.  

Board members were to act as quasi-judicial decision makers. They are, of course, not a court of law; nonetheless, members were under a duty similar to that shared by judges. They were to read the petition as a piece of documentary evidence, listen to presentations and arguments, and then, most importantly, they were required to look at California’s charter legal prerequisites, one by one, and determine whether the petition presented evidence to satisfy all the law’s requirements.

Lastly, I respectfully suggest that when casting their votes -- just as a judge must -- board members should explain to folks in the audience and the community whether and how OCCA’s petition did or did not meet the legal requirements. That is to say, to do justice, their explanations and votes must be cast in terms of law; not personal whim, preference or advantage.

That’s not what I saw happen.  

What I saw was a strident, cavalier, utterly shocking and complete abandonment of any principle of fairness — of doing justice. Of the four board members voting to support OCCA, not one gave a single explanation for their vote that had anything to do with the evidence or the law; much of their talk, as I heard it, was simply irrelevant or unintelligible.

What’s worse, those four board members completely ignored – actually trashed – and voted against the work of OUSD’s own professional experts.

Orange Unified’s superintendent and her staff invested some 500 hours in doing its investigation, research, and presenting to each board member – well in advance of the meeting – a 14-page analysis of the flaws and omissions contained in the OCCA petition. Based upon that analysis and evidence, district staff recommended that the petition be rejected. Rejected because it was legally, fatally, flawed.

For all appearances, there was not a hint that any of the Yea-sayers even read – let alone studied – the district staff’s report and recommendation. Trustee Rick Ledesma repeatedly dismissed the district’s entire 14-page analysis by characterizing its well-documented statements of fact as simply “assumptions;” but he never give a single example or fact in rebuttal.

In closing, I recommend – but only to those having a strong stomach – that you view the video recording of that Dec. 19 meeting and judge for yourself whether you’d ever want to put anything you value in the hands of OUSD trustees John Ortega, Alexia Deligianni-Brydges, Rick Ledesma or Brenda Lebsack. Ask yourself: Are those four the best folks available in the community to entrust with protecting the well-being of your school-age children? It’s up to you and me to insist on how our elected officials conduct business in our name.

Lynne Riddle is an Orange County resident, a retired federal judge, a lawyer, and a former university professor with a doctorate in education.

Guest Commentary:

OUSD board decision elicits astonishment, disbelief, sadness and rage

January 2020