From Bristow Beat
UPDATE: Sept. 21 at 10:15 a.m.
Prince William County School released the resolution that led to the request for censure. It involved the public release of confidential information regarding Division Counsel Mary McGowan in court.
In a 4:2 vote, the Prince William County School Board, censured its Chairman At-large, Ryan Sawyers, Wednesday.
Ryan Sawyers is a primary candidate to represent the Democratic Party for the Virginia 1st District U.S. Congressman.
The censure of a school board member holds no real power but acts as a public scolding or a demonstration of disapproval by the other board members.
The description of the recommended action read: “That the Prince William County School Board approve the resolution censuring Chairman at Large Ryan Sawyers for multiple and egregious violations of the Prince William County School Board Code of Ethics.”
The closed session action item was brought forth by Alyson Satterwhite of the Gainesville District and seconded by Willie Deutsch of the Coles District, both of whom identify as Republicans.
Diane Ralston (Neabsco), Willie Deutsch, Alyson Satterwhite, and Shawn Brann (Brentsville) voted in favor of the motion. Justin Wilk (Potomac) and Loree Williams (Woodbridge) voted ‘Nay.’
Raulston was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the censure. Acting-member Brann said he is not affiliated with a party.
Chairman Sawyers recused himself from meeting during the vote. Vice Chairman Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) was absent throughout the meeting.
According to the American School Board Journal, the collective disapproval of peers “can be communicated via a censure, a reprimand, removal from board posts, or another authorized rebuke.”
Such a censure can be performed privately or publicly, according to the ASBJ.
“When admonishment happens formally, however, it usually means the behavior was so egregious or well-publicized that board colleagues feel that a public response is warranted,” said Edwin C. Darden of the ASBJ. “Public shaming could generate a lawsuit.”
One of the main tenets of the School Board Code of Ethics is that the board act as a collective in directing staff and not as individual entities. Another tenet is that they keep closed session information private.
School Board members wrote their Code of Ethics together over a retreat weekend, in response to concerns they had over the behaviors of board members, and an attempt to work together more cohesively.
The issue was mainly discussed in closed session, and Bristow Beat has not yet received confirmation of which grievances the board brought forth against Sawyers.
Sawyers brought a lawsuit against Prince William Schools Superintendent, Steven L. Walts, in June, in regards to Walts’s denial of a request to provide Sawyers’ with his predecessor’s emails. A spokesperson for the schools said that the Superintendent would comply with the request from the board following an official vote.
Sawyers is also involved in personal lawsuits including one with Patriot Principal, Dr. Michael Bishop, in which former Chairman Milt Johns’ law firm, is representing Bishop. Johns said he has recused himself.
Over the summer, Sawyers started a GoFundMe page, independent of the board, to raise money to change the name of Stonewall Jackson High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
Most recently, Sawyers requested that division counsel, Mary McGowan, not sit with the board, facing the citizens.
Before voting on the motion to censure, the board voted on adding a section to the division counsel’s employment contract. That motion passed by 5 votes. Wilk abstained.
Williams spoke against the motion to censure.
I am going to vote no on this. Not because I am in a disagreeance with the Prince William County School Board violation of ethics, I think we are all guilty of that. Because I don’t believe in censuring one school board member for violation of school board PWC Code of Ethics. I believe that this is an occurrence that has been commonplace on this board, especially with closed session information being released to the public….To me, this is more of politics at play, rather than doing what we should be doing and working together as a board.
Satterwhite said she disagreed with Williams.
“I think the motion speaks for itself in light of some actions that have happened recently…These were multiple and egregious violations and I felt that it was in the best interest to protect the integrity and the professionalism on this board.”
Satterwhite and Sawyers have clashed publicly before severly times before over issues.
Neighboring Loudoun County attempted to censure one of its school board members last year after she was arrested at a Trump rally. That motion failed.
Dottie Miller, Chairwoman of the Prince William Republican Committee released a statement late Wednesday night.
Tonight’s bipartisan censure of Ryan Sawyers is a courageous move by this Democrat-controlled School Board and a historic reprimand for his reckless abuse of authority. Prince William deserves a School Board Chairman that is completely focused on education and our students, but instead, Ryan Sawyers has used our children as a tool for his personal grudges and a platform for higher office. Our kids deserve better.
Miller went on to call Sawyers a “divisive” leader.