Tensions Palpable as Distinct Sides Form in Cold Spring School Kerfuffle

By Nick Schou   |   April 22, 2021

Two weeks ago, the Montecito Journal reported that Cold Spring School (CSS) had attempted to file a restraining order against Amanda Rowan, a parent of a child at the school, on behalf of three employees of the school district. Santa Barbara Superior Court Commissioner Stephen Foley refused to immediately grant the request; however, attorneys for both the school and Rowan will have an opportunity on April 16 to make their arguments as to why the restraining order should or shouldn’t be granted.

According to the petition for the order, the school claims that Rowan has been harassing teachers and staff and allegedly threatening them with legal actions as well as the specter of a Santa Barbara Grand Jury probe. As the Journal previously reported, Rowan is fighting the restraining order, citing the district’s recent suspension of her daughter (the only such disciplinary action to have occurred in the past decade at the school) as an example of retaliation against her. The Journal has also confirmed that the Grand Jury has already begun conducting interviews with members of the CSS community, although the precise nature of the inquiry isn’t yet clear.

A Teacher Takes Time Off, Hoping for a Cool-Down

Meanwhile, the tit-for-tat publicity war within Montecito’s tiny tony school district is rapidly escalating. The Journal has now learned that one of the school employees named as a victim in the restraining order has just been placed on medical leave, and in a letter distributed to parents, she specifically cited the conflict with Rowan and other parents as the precipitant cause for her departure. On April 2, Dr. Amy Alzina, the school district’s superintendent, forwarded a letter addressed to all fourth-grade parents on behalf of the teacher.

“This week, many of you read the news articles discussing some concerning incidences and actions taken by the administration and the CSS school board regarding ongoing threats made by a parent at our school,” the teacher told parents. “Due to the continued harassment and unfounded accusations over the last four years from this person, it has completely disrupted my teaching and learning environment. Therefore, I am unable to serve my students effectively, and it has taken its toll on me.” 

In her letter, the teacher estimated that she was not going to be in the classroom from April 5 to at least April 19. 

“I hope that these issues are resolved soon so that I can return to serving my students,” she added.

In her email to parents forwarding the teacher’s letter, Alzina expressed support for the teacher’s decision. 

“Our children are very blessed to have such an exceptional teacher who goes above and beyond to ensure the needs of every child are met,” she wrote. “I know you will continue to love and support her more than ever during this difficult time.”

Other Employees Weigh In, Albeit Anonymously

On April 8, the Journal met in person with two employees of CSS who claim that it’s the school itself, not Rowan or any other parent, which is responsible for what they characterized as a culture of fear at CSS going back years. They blamed not just Dr. Alzina, but also Yuri Calderon, Chief Business Official and General Counsel for this atmosphere.

Both Alzina and Calderon have sent the Journal statements describing complaints against the school district as part of a pattern of intimidation on behalf of well-heeled parents who are seeking to submerge the school district in legal disputes. 

“I can only imagine that this is a continuation of the repeated false accusations and information that is being spread by a small group of individuals through the Montecito Journal about the district and its staff members,” Calderon said.

CSS attorney Greg Rolen forwarded a statement to the Journal on behalf of Board President Mike Marino

“The Cold Spring School District stands firmly behind Yuri Calderon,” Marino stated. “Since his arrival to our district, he has brought the highest level of professionalism and competence to his role, and our district. I will not stand by idly as one person with a personal vendetta seeks to destroy the reputation of our hard-working administrators and staff simply because they have done their job. The fiscal health of our district is healthy and is open and transparent under Mr. Calderon’s leadership.”

But according to Cold Spring School employees who spoke to the Journal last week, both Alzina and Calderon have engaged in a pattern of recriminations against Rowan and others who were critical of the school district’s past two bond measures. The first of those, Measure C, was approved by voters in November 2008, and authorized the district to borrow $2.44 million to pay for construction upgrades at the campus. The second, Measure L2020, sought to raise local property taxes in an effort to raise up to $7.8 million to pay for additional construction, but failed at the polls in November 2020.

The two individuals who agreed to be quoted for this story said they would only do so if their names and employee categories would not be mentioned, out of fear of personal and professional retaliation by the school.

“Because of the response of the administration and board to questions concerning Measure L2020 and Measure C, there is fear to speak against anything the administration wants to do,” said one of the employees. “It feels like there is a dark cloud over the school. Favoritism seems rampant and others are called out depending on whether or not the administration and board are being supported. Some staff members feel like if they are friends with Amanda Rowan, that fact needs to be hidden for fear of retribution.”

According to the first employee, previous bond proposals by the school district, including Measure C, had been carried out with a clear intent to listen to people who weren’t supportive of the effort, but that this didn’t happen with Measure L2020. 

“I was horrified at how the district pushed back and threatened those who had questions and were not in support of L2020,” the person said.

The school district’s filing of a restraining order against Rowan was just a public relations “stunt” to influence public opinion against Rowan, the person added. 

“The sheriff’s car parked in the Cold Spring Road parking lot on the day the restraining order was filed was definitely a PR stunt. Neither Amy Alzina nor Yuri Calderon expected Amanda to come to school at any point or day and cause harm to anyone. This has just further disillusioned me that the administration has the district’s best interest in mind.”

The second employee who met with the Journal last week lamented how this situation has affected morale at the small school and also took issue with the restraining order against Rowan. 

“The restraining order was unfounded, a waste of taxpayer money and is a desperate attempt by administration to portray Mrs. Rowan as a threat to school staff and students,” the person stated. “Removing students from a non-threatening school environment in order to portray Mrs. Rowan to be a threatening person is ludicrous. The only people who feel threatened by Mrs. Rowan are those who chose to defame her and participate in administration’s rues to portray Mrs. Rowan as a threatening person.”

Next week: An even deeper examination of the longstanding issues that led to the current controversy engulfing Montecito’s Cold Spring School.

 

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