Legal Stakes (and Delays) Mount at Cold Spring School

By Nick Schou   |   April 29, 2021

Last week, the Montecito Journal reported on the latest involving the ongoing conflict between the Cold Spring School District and Amanda Rowan, the parent of a child who was subjected to a one-hour school suspension for posing during a Zoom session as the school’s principal, Dr. Amy Alzina, while using a photograph of Rowan’s dog.

In that story, the Journal revealed that a teacher at the school who was one of three staff members who asked for a restraining order against Rowan had taken medical leave because of stress relating to news reports about the situation, and that Rowan was planning to fight the restraining order, which she claims is retaliation for demanding answers from school administrators regarding financial issues relating to the oversight of a pair of bond measures, an accusation the school district denies.

As of press time last week, both sides were scheduled to argue their case in a hearing scheduled for this Friday, April 23. However, after we went to press, on April 16, lawyers for Rowan filed a special motion claiming that the restraining order was a violation of Rowan’s free speech, thus delaying the hearing until May 21 at the earliest.

The special motion is known in legal circles as an Anti-SLAPP suit; the acronym refers to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Rowan’s attorney Timothy Cary is claiming that the restraining order “was brought to chill [Rowan’s] constitutionally protected rights to publicly criticize and challenge [the school’s] conduct.” Cary further alleges in the motion that the school failed to present any evidence that Rowan “ever committed an act of violence or made any credible threat of violence.”

While Cary’s motion acknowledged that Rowan had threatened legal action against the school for withholding information in response to public records act requests she’d filed, including those targeting teachers named in the school’s restraining order petition, it also argued that she hadn’t directly spoken to three of the four staff members named in the order in the past two years.

As of press time, Greg Rolen, the attorney representing Cold Spring School in the matter, had yet to file any response to Cary’s motion, nor did he respond to a request for comment for this story. However, Alzina said in an interview that she had reluctantly filed the restraining order against Rowan at the request of her staff. “I am trying so desperately hard as a leader to make sure the castle won’t burn down,” she said, adding that the school’s ongoing legal conflict with Rowan, not to mention press reports about the conflict, have drastically harmed teacher morale.

“These are the best teachers in the whole world and to see them attacked in this way is hurtful. In any organization,” said Alzina, “you will have ten percent of parents that don’t like your leadership, especially if their kids have been disciplined.” Alzina added that she had instructed the school’s legal counsel to offer to reverse the suspension as part of a mediation agreement with Rowan, but that the effort was rebuffed. “I offered to have a confidential meeting to have a mediator resolve this,” she said. “They don’t want to resolve this and just want to keep fighting.”

Despite some of the criticism against Alzina that has surfaced amid the school’s ongoing legal conflict with Rowan and others, several parents who worked closely with Alzina at her previous job, where she was principal of Adams Elementary School for eight years beginning in 2008, contacted the Journal to vouch for her integrity as an educator and a passionate advocate for disadvantaged children at the school

“Amy did such an amazing job at Adams,” said one such parent, Alison Bell, who served on the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) at Adams. “To me she embodies what education should be, in terms of tending to the needs of the children, so it breaks my heart to see that there are a lot of character attacks going on right now,” said Bell. “She created so many opportunities for our students and rallied an entire teacher community to get on board with new approaches by bringing in a design program, the Montessori program, all these opportunities that kids at private schools had that our school district couldn’t afford at that time. She is an invaluable person to education and anybody who has her in leadership I would hope would be grateful to have her.”

 

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