From Bristow Beat
Prince William School Board Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers has filed a “writ of mandamus” against Superintendent Steven L. Walts,” asking the courts to direct the superintendent to provide him access to all his predecessors’ school division emails.
In the lawsuit, Attorney Cristopher Kachouroff said the lawsuit would “enforce the rights and privileges of Ryan Sawyers as an elected official.”
The timing is notable as Dr. Walts’ evaluation by the School Board is scheduled for May 24. It will be conducted in closed session.
Sawyers has been talking for weeks about how is entitled to have his predecessor’s emails by virtue of his position. Dr. Walts denied that request, saying that Sawyers’ could gain access to the email only with the approval of his board.
The school division defended its position that leaderships needs to follow the direction of the board, not the chairman as an individual actor.
“Lacking an official policy, there is currently no process for releasing broad, unfiltered information to an individual board member. 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.
Sawyers told Bristow Beat he would like to see the emails in order to be more consistent with his predecessor. He told another media outlet he wanted to find out more about how trailers have become prevalent at eastern elementary schools. He described it as a normal request, which others board members were politicizing.
But not everyone believes Sawyers’ reasons. Some school board members allege the desire for the emails has more to do with Sawyers’ ongoing court battle with Dr. Michael Bishop, Principal of Patriot High School: a point which Sawyers denies.
On local social media, the questions arose as to whether or not Sawyers should recuse himself from participating in the superintendent’s evaluation.
“Obviously, the timing is cause for concern,” said Phil Kavis, PWCS Director of Communications. “I don’t know of any rule requiring recusal.”
Willie Deutsch, school board member representing the Coles District, has been largely outspoken in his opposition to Sawyers’ actions in many instances. Deutsch believes the board should vote to require that Sawyers recuse himself.
“He is clearly not in a position to evaluate the superintendent when he is advancing his personal agenda by suing the superintendent,” Deutsch said.
Kavits said that superintendent evaluations are annual and are done by a board vote. Last year, Walts’ contract was extended until June 30, 2019.
According to Kavits, although the suit is against Walts and not the school division. Since Walts is being sued as per his position of superintendent, “acting in pursuit of his duties” the school division will provide counsel. The cost will not come directly from school funds but from the division’s insurance policy.
Over the weekend, Deutsch told Bristow Beat he is concerned about the effect the current board leadership has had on high level employees, claiming board leadership has targeted individuals and created an overall atmosphere of intimidation.
Sawyers and Jessie did not respond to a request for comment.
Deutsch also notes that according to the Board Code of Ethics, school board members should not act as individual agents.
Bristow Beat contacted all school board members via email, asking them to weigh in on the incident. Only Deutsch replied in time for publication.
“A bully doesn’t like to get called out. Someone has to stand up to the bully,” Deutsch said.