Censure of Prince William School Board Chairman Response to Release of Confidential Material

| September 21, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education

Prince William Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers delivers a presentation on the school board’s budget for 2017-18.

The Prince William School Board’s censuring of Chairman Ryan Sawyers, Wednesday, was in direct response to his inappropriate sharing of confidential information within the case of Sawyers vs. McGowan, according to division-provided documentation.

Alyson Satterwhite, Gainesville member of the Prince William County School Board, said she motioned her board to censure Sawyers to protect it from possible lawsuits.

Satterwhite alleged Sawyers had made “egregious violations” of the School Board’s Code of Ethics when he shared attorney/client privileged information in court documents available to public viewing. Documents were provided as per Sawyers’ “Writ of Mandamus” lawsuit against Division Counsel, Mary McGowan.

Phil Kavits, Association Superintendent for Communication and Technology, provided Bristow Beat with Sawyers’ Petition against McGown as presented to the Circuit Court of Prince William County.

According to that document, Sawyers’ lawsuit against McGowan is similar to the one Sawyers pursued against Superintendent Steven Walts, in June of 2017. In it, Sawyers petitions for McGowan to provide him with his predecessors’ email.

Satterwhite brought forth the resolution, not because Sawyers was suing the Division Counsel, but because Sawyers allegedly violated sections 2 and 13 of the Prince William County School Board Code of Ethics.

Number two states that confidential matters pertaining to the school division shall remain confidential.

  1. I will hold confidential all matters pertaining to the Prince William County Public Schools which, if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the school division, and all information that is private and/or privileged under applicable law and School Board policies and regulations, including but not limited to, all materials and information pertaining to closed session and all matters protected by the attorney/client privilege.

Thirteen asserts that no individual member should take actions that may compromise the board as a whole.

  1. I recognize that authority rests with the School Board as a whole, and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the Board.

As per her resolution, Satterwhite alleges Sawyers’ violations were egregious in that “this violation of confidentiality puts the School Board at legal risk in current and future litigation against said Board.”

“It’s drilled into you, again and again, that as a board member you have to protect attorney-client privilege; you have to protect confidentiality,” Satterwhite said, in a phone interview. “Those are documents that belong to the school board. Ryan did not have the right to release [them].”

As the public can now access those documents, Satterwhite said there is undoubtedly a legal risk to the board. “It opens us up to lawsuit now and in the future.”

Alyson Satterwhite, Gainesville District School Board member, Prince William County Schools

“No other board member has ever released anything like this,” said Satterwhite. “I’ve never heard of anyone being this irresponsible with confidential and privileged info.”

And she refutes the argument that the censure was political, noting it was a bipartisan vote.

“There was nothing political about a board member who knowingly and intentionally released confidential information,” said Satterwhite. “That was his willing choice that he made”

Satterwhite explained the process of bringing the motion forward, started with seeking the advice of Parliamentarian Thomas J. Balch, a contributor for recent editions of Robert’s Rules of Order, someone who she said “literally wrote the book.”

She and Coles board member Willie Deutsch together paid for the Parliamentarian through their reelection campaign funds. They followed Balch’s advice in adding the motion to reseat McGowan on the dais, to the Sept. 6 agenda.

They followed the same procedure in motioning for the censure, Sept. 21. Both times, the motions were added as “emergency agenda items” and approved by majority votes.

Satterwhite said while there were other times she felt Sawyers had stepped over the line, she felt this one could very likely produce damaging consequences, which is the reason for the censure. Others board members had made missteps she admitted, but she could not think of any instance in which anyone broke the rules so intentionally and egregiously to the determent of the board and school division.

Chairman Ryan Sawyers has been contacted, and we will provide an update at the time we receive his comments.

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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Category: Education

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