Santa Ynez: School principal loses case alleging open meeting violation

A California court dismissed allegations that the Santa Ynez union Valley High School District Board violated the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law, in meeting in closed session to consider complaints against a former principal. -db

Santa Ynez Valley Journal
October 14, 2010
By SYVJ Staff

The Second District Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision, affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing a suit brought by Norman Clevenger, alleging that the Santa Ynez Union Valley High School District Board may have considered evidence of complaints about him in a closed-door session which, he contends, would amount to a violation of the Brown Act.

Clevenger was the principal at Santa Ynez from 1999 to 2008, when his contract was not renewed. He is now the principal at San Marcos High in Santa Barbara.

Clevenger was notified by letter that the board would meet to consider complaints at its next meeting, and gave him the option to have those heard in a closed- or open-door session. Clevenger chose open.

A follow-up letter from the board then clarified that it would not be considering complaints, but rather only whether to renew his contract. He was advised the recommendation would be that he not be retained.

Clevenger appeared at the board meeting, where he and others spoke in open session. According to Clevenger, all of the comments were positive.

Superintendent Fred Van Leuvan stated in open session that he had “lost confidence in his [Clevenger’s] leadership and representation of the school.”

The board then met in closed session. On returning to open session, it was announced that Clevenger’s contract would not be renewed, but that he would be retained as a certified teacher, as he had acquired tenure. The trial court found that Clevenger had not met his burden of proof.

The Appellate Court found that Clevenger was not entitled to an open-session discussion, but that was given one by the board only because it was acting out of an abundance of caution. The court further found that Clevenger had received proper notice, and had in fact, never alleged otherwise. His other complaints were found to be without merit.

Finally, the court found that the board was “entitled to consider a superintendent’s negative assessment of his leadership as a valid reason not to renew,” and it did not accept Clevenger’s claim that the board must have considered complaints against him.

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