Veteran Teacher Resigns During Tense Cold Spring School Board Meeting
The most recent meeting of the Cold Spring School District’s Governing Board took place at the school campus at 6 pm on May 10 and, despite lingering COVID-19 concerns, drew a standing-room only crowd. Participants included all five board members, school officials including Superintendent and Principal Amy Alzina, Chief Operating Officer Yuri Calderon, and about 50 attendees, all of whom wore masks and did their best to socially distance during the meeting in the school’s auditorium, which ran for nearly two hours.
Although it wasn’t listed on the agenda, during the section of the hearing reserved for the superintendent’s report, teacher Mariko Callahan addressed the audience. Callahan, who was named as a complainant in a recent restraining order filed by Alzina against parent and administration critic Amanda Rowan, announced that she was resigning from her job.
“I have something to say,” Callahan told the crowd. “For the last four years, numerous threatening, defamatory, and incredibly hurtful lies have proliferated our community about me. I cannot begin to fully express the depth of the pain and heartache that these lies have caused me, my husband, my own two children, my family, my friends, and truthfully, my students.”
Callahan claimed she’d been subjected to both “frivolous personal attacks” and “a carefully orchestrated attack” against her, in part waged in the press.
“I am here to tell you today that enough is enough,” she declared, which led to a heartfelt round of applause from the crowd. “If I could stay for each of you, I would. And please know that I will forever be so grateful for your love and support for my time at Cold Spring.”
In an official statement released to the Journal, Alzina lamented Callahan’s departure.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, teachers, and staff, I want to thank Mari Callahan for her 11 years of service to the Cold Spring School District and our community,” Alzina stated. “During her tenure, Mrs. Callahan served as a 1-4th grade teacher, GATE Coordinator, Curriculum Coordinator, Librarian, and Student Council Lead teacher. She is an exceptional teacher and leader! She was instrumental in our effort to deliver a robust Remote Learning Program during the pandemic and our return to in-person learning in September 2020. Her new school community is fortunate to have such a talented educator. She will be deeply missed by our entire school community.”
Immediately following Callahan’s surprise announcement, former Cold Spring School trustee Kathy Davidson had the unfortunate timing of addressing the crowd on the next agenda item, which had to do with whether or not the district should spend money to pursue a so-called Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, audit, which Rowan and other parents critical of Cold Spring School’s most recent bond measure efforts are demanding.
“What is at stake here is the integrity and the trustworthiness of the Cold Spring School District leadership as an entity,” Davidson began, amid audible booing by many audience members. “It has nothing to do with the personalities who sit on the Governing Board at any given time or who the current Superintendent/Principal is.
“So please stop being so defensive and stop taking this request for a FCMAT audit so personally. You know that this is not a personal attack, so stop characterizing it as such. That behavior is unbecoming and unprofessional.”
According to Davidson, the school’s current board, which failed to win popular support for last November’s Measure L2020, which sought to raise $7.8 million for school construction, was out of touch with the broader community beyond the parents of current students, which she said represents 87 percent of residents being asked to pony up the cash. “As a leadership team, you cannot expect trust, assume trust, or demand trust – you have to earn it,” she argued. “You have disrespected us, and you have been disrespected, you have failed to include us, and failed to earn our trust. That’s why your bond measure failed.”
Following a presentation by legal counsel Greg Rolen, who appeared remotely via Zoom on a large screen, regarding the various options the board had regarding participating in a FCMAT audit, trustees ultimately voted to wait until next month’s meeting to decide whether or not to pay for the audit, which Rolen estimated would cost $20,000, or to continue to fight it.
Student’s Suspension Lifted After Lawsuit Filed by Cold Spring School Parent
Less than a week after Cold Spring School parent Amanda Rowan filed a lawsuit claiming that the school’s filing of a restraining order against her was a violation of her free speech rights, the school unilaterally rescinded its one-hour suspension of Rowan’s daughter for posing as Alzina during a Zoom class while using a profile photograph of her pet dog, Mr. Peanut Butter.
According to a letter obtained by the Journal, Rowan’s attorney Tim Carey received a note from Greg Rolen, the district’s counsel, about how the school had decided to lift the suspension as a “good faith” gesture to try to resolve its ongoing and costly legal conflict with Rowan.
“Each attempt at reconciliation has been met instead with further escalation by you and your client,” Rolen wrote. “Initially, when Dr. Alzina informed your client of the one-hour Zoom suspension, Ms. Rowan verbally threatened her with litigation. She made good on her threat with multiple cease-and- desist demands, litigation hold letters, public records act requests, and a Uniform Complaint.”
Rolen’s letter to Carey details several back-and-forth discussions about the suspension and other matters relating to the restraining order against Rowan and her subsequent lawsuit against the school.
“As attorneys, we both understand scorched earth wars of attrition,” Rolen stated. “While, from a strategic viewpoint, we appreciate that Ms. Rowan’s deep pockets can be employed to bankrupt the Cold Spring School District (“District”), the collateral casualties are, and always have been, the Cold Spring students.
If Rowan’s child had been an adult when she posed as Alzina, Rolen argued, she could be charged with a misdemeanor crime. He characterized the lifting of the suspension as an “olive branch” aimed at de-escalating the conflict, thus placing the school in the position of being the “adult in the room.”
Despite this development, there is absolutely no indication that Rowan nor her attorneys are backing down.
“The District’s belated decision to withdraw my daughter’s improper suspension is long overdue,” said Rowan in a statement released to the Journal. “Their misuse of an innocent nine-year-old girl as a pawn to try to leverage us and halt our quest for accountability for the use of public funds, from asking questions, and raising legitimate concerns, is as disturbing and immoral as it was ineffective.”
Rowan added that the concerns held by her and other parents about Cold Spring School go far beyond the suspension of her child.
“We are not stopping until we get the free FCMAT forensic audit parents first pushed for four years ago,” she stated. “What is the district hiding? FCMAT is the objective ‘adult in the room’ we have been advocating for this entire time. All the district ever had to do is what it should have done anyway: Be honest, transparent, and accountable for its use of public funds.”