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Opinion

Commentary: Why I voted to protect school-related confidences in Laguna Beach

dee perry
“Member Perry [pictured above] did not consult with her fellow board members or the district’s attorney before disclosing the communication,” writes Laguna Beach school board member Peggy Wolff.
(File Photo)

I am a member of Laguna Beach’s board of education. We are a five-person, majority rules board. As stewards of the school district, each member must adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards.

To ensure these standards are met, members are to follow bylaws and attend professional training. A member who does not meet these standards will inevitably lose the trust and confidence of others on the board.

One of our fundamental obligations is to have clear transparency on board business in public and to respect privacy on matters that are confidential. Confidential matters concern individual students, teachers and staff, as well as ongoing litigation.

When the board addresses confidential matters, we do so in a closed (non-public) session. Under board bylaws, a member “shall not disclose confidential information to a person not entitled to receive such information, unless a majority of the board has authorized the disclosure.”

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The reason is simple: violating confidentiality exposes the district to liability.

When communicating by email about district business, members are required to use their official, district-supplied email accounts. This allows the district to archive our communications, which ensures transparency as to public matters and confidentiality as to privileged ones. Under no circumstance is a member to conduct official business through personal email.

From public information requests, the board recently learned that member Dee Perry has directly forwarded communication from the district’s attorney marked as “CONFIDENTIAL.” The person to whom member Perry forwarded the email was not an intended recipient.

Member Perry did not consult with her fellow board members or the district’s attorney before disclosing the communication. She did so unilaterally.

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Member Perry’s disclosure of email marked confidential concerns me deeply. In my opinion, this behavior disregards legal and ethical obligations, exposes the district to liability, sows mistrust and threatens the integrity of the board.

This is why I supported the recommendation of the district’s attorney that certain confidential matters now be handled by an executive subcommittee that, for a time, does not include member Perry.

To be clear, the purpose of my vote was not to “silence” a board member; rather, I voted to protect confidences entrusted to us concerning individual persons and ongoing litigation. To have not taken this action, in my opinion, would have condoned conduct unbecoming a steward of our school district.

Peggy Wolff is a member of the Laguna Beach school board.


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