New Lawsuit Alleging Missing Documents is Latest Salvo in Ongoing Cold Spring School Standoff

By Nick Schou   |   May 6, 2021

Previous articles in the Montecito Journal have described what by now has become a no-holds-barred legal conflict between the Cold Spring School and Amanda Rowan, a parent of a child who was suspended from the classroom last year, and who was subsequently named in a restraining order filed on behalf of three employees of the school by the school district’s principal, Dr. Amy Alzina.

Now, having already filed a motion claiming that the restraining order against her was allegedly in retaliation for her fiercely vocal criticism of the administration, Rowan is demanding that the school hand over records relating to the school’s previous bond measure campaigns. Although Alzina and other Cold Spring officials have stated that everything relevant to Rowan’s inquiry about prior bond measure expenditures has been posted on the school’s website, Rowan alleges in her April 21 lawsuit that the school has failed to respond to five specific California Public Record Act (PRA) requests that she filed dating from December 10, 2020 to March 15, 2021.

Rowan’s suit claims that her request for information is for “records of vital importance to enable accountability within the School District on core public issues such as accounting for the expenditure of bond funds, curriculum being taught to students, identification of possible conflicts of interests by District administrators, possible non-compliance with multiple California laws including the Education Code, possible unprofessional conduct by certificated educators, possible dissemination of false information about the existence of a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee that is legally required to oversee the expenditure of funds raised by a bond measure approved by the public, and a host of other issues of public accountability at a government agency, the Cold Spring School District.”

If that sounds a like a mouthful, it is. But wait, there’s more.

The lawsuit specifically mentions the suspension of Rowan’s child as a retaliatory action against Rowan. “As a result [Rowan’s] child and another classmate became the first students to be suspended from the School District in over 10 years,” the suit states. “Petitioner’s child was treated unfairly as a result of Petitioner’s activism and this appeared to be a way of retaliating against and attempting to intimidate Petitioner so that she would be forced to cease her community activities.”

So far, Cold Spring School hasn’t filed an official response to Rowan’s lawsuit. Attorney Greg Rolen, who represents the school, didn’t respond to an interview request for this story. However, attorney Karl Olson, who is representing Rowan, described the suit as essentially self-explanatory. “It’s pretty straightforward,” he said. “We asked for records, none of them were produced, and none of them are exempt from being produced under the law. It’s not rocket science.”

Olson specializes in public records law and says that it’s not rare for public agencies to fail to respond to record act requests in a timely fashion. “A lot of agencies out there will just stonewall, and the requester will just go away,” he explained. “But Amanda has a strong feeling that the public has a right to know how its money is being spent and in the words of our California Supreme Court, openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy.”

Several hours after the lawsuit was filed, Olson added, Cold Spring School did release some records that had been requested. “It was kind of too little too late,” he said. “They produced some records but didn’t say when they would produce the remainder of them. When an agency engages with you and gets back to you and says we are on it and we will disclose these records and ask for an extra week, most requesters will say ok, but they didn’t engage with us, they just kind of pretended we didn’t exist so that is what required us to file this lawsuit.”


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