ORINDA -- Three years after hearing complaints from parents about what they claim is strict and overly harsh punishment of students by an elementary school principal, a majority of Orinda School District trustees have voted down an appeal to hear a new complaint filed by a teacher against the administrator.
Board President Chris Severson, Vice President Matt Moran and board member Julie Rossiter voted April 14 not to hear a teacher's complaint against Wagner Ranch Elementary School Principal Janis Arnerich. That followed an earlier dismissal of the complaint by Superintendent Joe Jaconette. Trustees Sarah Butler and Tyson Krumholz voted in favor of hearing the grievance.
Butler said later that she voted to hear the complaint because she believes the board serves as an appeals body, and is tasked with ensuring accountability. Krumholz wrote in an e-mail that he looks to the superintendent to "engage and improve" any school site situations and would continue to press the board to prioritize individual site visits.
The teacher later asked not to be named for fear of retribution.
Because the decision was made during closed session, board members did not discuss the matter publicly or give details of the complaint. Severson issued a statement that the board could not discuss personnel information but takes all complaints "seriously and investigates them."
"The district has investigated all complaints in accordance with district policy and procedures," Severson said.
Jaconette did not comment.
The vote came despite pleas from current and former Wagner Ranch parents to consider hearing the teacher's concerns. Three years ago, Arnerich's critics decried the school's high suspension rate and disciplinary tactics they said humiliated students. Parents also criticized the handling of suspensions and other punishments they say were meted out hastily and without full investigations. They also expressed concerns about videotaped interviews of students without parental knowledge, and about possible discrimination.
Supporters have argued in the past that Arnerich, principal of Wagner Ranch since 2004, is the target of an "orchestrated" attack. And in 2011, school board trustees said they were satisfied Arnerich's disciplinary policies were satisfactory.
According to data from the Department of Education, 13 suspensions were reported at Wagner during the 2009-10 school year, compared with four total recorded at the district's three other elementary schools.
Some parents are still critical of what they say is a lack of due process. And on April 14, residents again rallied and asked the school board to hear the complaint dismissed by Jaconette.
"My request is based on the fact that it is one more in a growing list of complaints against Principal Arnerich's abusive and unprofessional behavior, which has been ignored by (Superintendent) Jaconette," said former Wagner parent Neil Gilbert. "Jaconette has ignored Arnerich's pattern of disrespect toward parents and insensitivity toward students and bullying of teachers that continues to this day."
Commenting on a closed session performance evaluation of the superintendent, scheduled immediately following the board's consideration of the grievance, parent Lisa Copass told the board that based on years of complaints by parents, teachers and children, trustees should consider whether Jaconette is the "right person" for the job.
"Let me remind the board that the superintendent reports to you all and you all were elected to work for the Orinda people," Copass said.
The board did not comment publicly on the superintendent's evaluation, which must be completed each year by June 30.