Prince William School Board Restores Bishop’s Contract

| June 16, 2016 | 0 Comments | Education
Dr. Michael Bishop, Principal of Patriot High School

Dr. Michael Bishop, Principal of Patriot High School

The Prince William School Board voted Wednesday evening to withdraw a straw poll that previously held the continuing contract of Dr. Michael Bishop, principal of Patriot High School until further investigation and a vote from the board.

The withdrawal of the poll vote reinstates Bishop’s contract and protects his positions as principal of Patriot.

The June 6 poll became politicized when it was posted on social media. Members of the community inferred the action against Bishop may be suspect in light of a legal dispute between the Bishop and new School Board Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers.

Bishop sued Sawyers and another local gentleman, Guy Moran, for $3.35 million in February of 2015. The charges filed include defamation of character, civil conspiracy and contract interference due to emails sent and social media posts about Bishop.

Now, with the straw poll, Bishop found his career had been threatened, this time by the school board.

In response to the poll, Bishop obtained Attorney Jack White who drafted a response to the school board. White’s letter argued that the straw poll violates state and local statutes, that Bishop was denied “due process,” and that the poll was “unlawful.”

The issue was put forth before the school board for “confirmation.”

Seven school board members voted “Yes” to withdraw the poll. Chairman Ryan Sawyers abstained as he did in the June 6 vote.

Sawyers explained that since he was abstaining in the straw poll, he did not think it would be right to disallow it.

“It was for clarification on a poll that I was not a part of,” said Sawyers. “I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to not allow it. That’s the process that gets lost in the midst of it all.”

Sawyers further described his decision to allow it as a “defacto rule,” saying, “when a member asks me for clarification on a closed session item that I wasn’t a part of, I tend to allow it.”

Northern Virginia Times reported that the investigation into Bishop involved Guy Moran’s Freedom of Information Act request for more than 4,000 emails Bishop sent through his PWCS account. Some emails went back to 2014.

One correspondence was considered to be suspicious. It was between Bishops and an autistic teacher, asking about children participating in a “Buddy Ball” baseball program for children with disabilities or special needs. The program is run through the Haymarket Gainesville Baseball League of which Bishop is president.

School board members did not discuss the reasons they were voting to withdraw the poll. Nor did they name Bishop as being the employee affected by the poll.

However, Willie Deutsch of the Cole District, who voted to protect Bishop’s contract in the June 6 poll, spoke out about the misuse of polling by his board.

“I voted against board polls before,” said Deutsch. “This continues to show the gross overreach and abuse of the board poll policy. I hope that this board will stop abusing the board poll policy and actually address things in an open and fair matter.”

Occoquan Board member Lillie Jessie defended the school board, saying they are not abusing power but learning and growing, and that instead, board members are being abused.

We are in the middle of a transition as a board. We are learning as a board. Abuse is not a word I would use. I think we’re just growing as a board. I think it is important for the public to know that every one of these people walk the streets to support everybody here. It’s not – some of us are being abused. I’m starting to think I’m Hillary Clinton. They want all my emails. They want everything. I didn’t come on this board for that.

Patriot parents, students and recent graduates attended the board meeting to speak out on behalf of Bishop. Many wore red in support of the high school.

While there were approximately 75 citizens wearing Patriot red at 7 p.m., the meeting was delayed by two hours and during that time, the numbers dwindled to about half.

Several citizens spoke before the school board on behalf of Bishop. They noted the strong performance of the school. One Patriot mother said that even when the students believed there was an active shooter on campus, her child said he felt safe there.

Sawyers and Trenum had also placed an item on the agenda to for information requesting that the school board review Policy 137 on “Polling of the Prince William County School Board.”

Although Trenum had made some new additions to the regulation, he said he believed it could be voted upon that evening.

“We’ve had the polling policy on the agenda a number of times. We’ve had the first reading a number back,” said Trenum, adding that the changes were not complex.

Trenum’s proposed changes to the regulation said that the superintendent and division council should be given prior notice of a poll and  the results have to be confirmed via a public vote in a regular meeting unless it is a unanimous poll.

Unanimous polls can be placed on the consent agenda, but “the poll/motion must be identified in either case,” the proposed amendment states.

“I think it is important because right now, I am concerned that we are using the polling procedure maybe too often,” Trenum said.

Trenum also explained that the number of polls the board took this year broke records.

In a typical year, a board might take 2-3 polls. However, this year they have already taken seven before summer recess when straw polls are most needed because the board does not meet.

Sawyers said that due to the changes he does not think it should be voted upon, but just stay as proposed for information.

Deutsch who wanted the vote taken that night tried to overrule Sawyer’s decision as chairman, but Sawyers refused to accept the appeal.

Deutsch then claimed Sawyers had violated “Robert’s Rules of Order,” which governs the board’s procedures, by not recognizing his appeal to override his ruling, but Sawyers determined they will be moving on.

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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