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Appeals court rejects Newport-Mesa effort to block release of investigation summary on school award

Appeals court rejects Newport-Mesa effort to block release of investigation summary on school award
Laura Canzone, then known as Laura Sacks, greets children on the first day of school in 2015, when she was principal at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach. (File Photo)

An appellate judge dismissed the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's request to block an Orange County Superior Court ruling ordering that the district release a report summarizing an investigation into a controversial award application from Mariners Elementary School.

Presiding Justice Kathleen O'Leary of the state 4th District Court of Appeal dismissed the motion Thursday, ruling that an order or judgment under the Public Records Act is not appealable.

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That means Superior Court Judge Linda Marks' Jan. 22 ruling stands and the district will have to release the summary report.

Marks also ordered the district to submit the full investigation report so she could determine how much, if any, of it could be made public. The judge's review was to be conducted within 20 days of receiving the report.

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District officials said in March that they had submitted the full report and the court was reviewing it.

Newport-Mesa spokeswoman Annette Franco said Friday that the district will meet with legal counsel to determine its next step on the summary report.

John Caldecott, the district's former director of human resources, petitioned last year for a court order to force the public release of documents related to the Mariners investigation.

"We're one step closer to the Mariners report and accountability and transparency," Caldecott said Friday. "The district made multiple efforts to prevent that."

In 2016, teachers at the Newport Beach school alleged inaccuracies in a Gold Ribbon Award application that then-Principal Laura Canzone submitted to the California Department of Education the previous fall, when she was known as Laura Sacks. The school received the award.

Canzone later requested new duties and was transferred to Costa Mesa Middle School as a principal on special assignment.

Shortly after the district announced that an independent investigation of the matter had been completed by Dana Point-based Nicole Miller and Associates, Canzone submitted a letter of resignation in March 2017 and was on paid administrative leave through June 30.

The district has said it would not publicly disclose the findings of the investigation or any actions resulting from it because of employee privacy rights.

But Marks wrote in her ruling that "given the public nature of the allegations against Dr. Sacks, her privacy interest is minimal and does not outweigh the public's interest in understanding why Sacks was exonerated and how the district treated the accusations."

The court also ordered the district to pay Caldecott's attorney fees.

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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