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Prince William School Board Chairman’s Requests Predecessor’s Emails

| May 3, 2017 | 1 Comment | News

Ryan Sawyers

Prince William School Chairman Ryan Sawyers’ request for access to all of his predecessor’s emails has sparked controversy this week.

School Board members Willie Deutsch (Coles) and Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) have voiced their concern over Sawyers’ request to gain access to all emails belonging to previous Chairman Milt Johns’ account.

Deutsch and Satterwhite said Sawyers had demanded the emails over spring break and done so in way that was threatening towards the school division staff, even the superintendent.

“Ryan Sawyers should step down and resign immediately as chairman at large of the Prince William County School Board,” said Satterwhite on her “Friends of Alyson Satterwhite” Facebook page. “His actions this week have shown that his focus is not on the students welfare of Prince William County Schools, but instead on his own personal and destructive agenda.”

Sawyers is engaged in a legal dispute with Patriot Principal, Dr. Michael Bishop, and those emails could be used to help his legal argument. But that is not the reason Sawyers’ said he wants the emails.

“The emails are owned by the school board as a whole. But the individual office holder also has a right to his or her office and the history of that office,” said Sawyers in an email to Bristow Beat. “Any institutional knowledge that a school board member can learn only helps them make better informed decisions.”

The chairman said those emails contain information that could assist him in fulling his office.

“I am often told that we do things differently since I have been chairman but that difference isn’t intentional. Ultimately we are an oversight body and we have individual rights to our offices even though our authority is as a collective body,” Sawyers said.

However, the school division has not agreed to hand over the email that easily, disagreeing that they should be the right of the current office holder.

“The authority of the School Board stems from a majority vote of the full body,” said Phil Kavits, Director of Communications for Prince William County Schools.

For that reason, the superintendent has decided that the full board should decide whether to grant “usually broad access,” to the chairman, explaining that neither the school board nor the school division has any established policies or procedures for addressing the unusual request.

Sawyers feels this information should be made available to him even if it sets a precedent that all school board members can access their predecessor’s emails.

“Yes. This should already be done. As an oversight body we need every tool possible to learn about our seats and how we can make better informed decisions,” he said.

The request was not part of any subpoena or FOIA. However; even if were, Kavits said it would be subjected to “specific parameters and protection of confidential emails.”

Likely, the emails would need to be screened so that personal student, employment and medical information are not released. Screening could be a timely task.

“The concern is that the request could detract from the division’s focus on meeting student needs, by potentially dividing the school board and consuming limited staff time,” Kavits said.

However, Sawyers rejects that argument, saying as chairman he receives confidential emails all the time. He does not see why the emails received by his predecessor should be any different, adding, “If Chairman Johns used his publicly owned email account for personal reasons that was his mistake.”

Both Deutsch and Satterwhite accuse Sawyers is hurting the school division through his requests.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, our school division is hurting now,” Satterwhite wrote on her Friends of Alyson Sattwerwhite Facebook page, April 28. “Why? Because every time Mr. Sawyers pulls these stunts, it pulls school division resources away from our central focus. That focus should be your students…if Mr. Sawyers really cares about educating our children, that would be his focus, not threats and intimidation tactics.”

Deutsch agreed, saying Sawyers should spend more time concerning himself with the education of students and stop bullying staff and overstepping his authority as chairman.

Sawyers believes that Satterwhite and Deutsch are stirring up controversy for political reasons and publicity, knowing controversy will bring more clicks to their social media pages.

“The talking point that the Republicans on the board are repeating are handed to them by the former Chairman, Supervisor Lawson, Supervisor Candland and their handlers. I admire their loyalty to repeating the message but it’s a desperate attempt to interfere with a lawful request,” Sawyers said.

He said it is the Republicans who are politicizing a very basic request.

“Now, with such obstructionism I am growing more and more curious as to what those emails contain.”

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. Pendragon says:

    Shame on Ryan Sawyers. He needs to stop with his own vendetta and disown little power trip. He is hurting the students of Prince William County with his antics.

    How many millions will his behavior cost the county? I voted for him but he has just been one major disappoint after the other. Yes, I have buyer’s regret.

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