Newport-Mesa appeals to block release of summary of Mariners Elementary investigation

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. Her application for a Gold Ribbon Award drew allegations of inaccuracies and prompted an investigation.
(File Photo)

An attorney for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has filed an appeal in Orange County Superior Court seeking to block the release of a report summarizing an investigation into a controversial award application from Mariners Elementary School.

Attorney Anthony De Marco filed the appeal Feb. 22, a month after Superior Court Judge Linda Marks ordered the district to release the summary report by that date.

In her Jan. 22 ruling, Marks also ordered the district to submit the full investigation report within five days 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.

Newport-Mesa spokeswoman Annette Franco said Tuesday that the district submitted the full report by the deadline and that the court is reviewing it.

However, the district said in a statement that “in order to protect the confidentiality of all individuals who participated in this investigation, we oppose the disclosure of the investigative report or any summaries related to this investigation.”

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.

On Tuesday, Caldecott called the district’s appeal a “tactic” to avoid transparency.

“The district is spending public funds to avoid following California Public Records Acts requests and causing people to file a writ of mandate to get documents that should be released through normal course of events,” Caldecott said.

In 2016, Mariners teachers 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 Newport Beach 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 school district to pay Caldecott’s attorney fees.

“We all know that the school got that award,” Caldecott said Tuesday, “but we’re not clear what the school did to deal with the teachers’ concerns.”

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