On the evening of May 17, 40 minutes before a Sweetwater Union High School board meeting was scheduled to begin, John Brickley and Fran Brinkman attempted to enter the board room. According to Brinkman, a number of parents and teachers had come to ask the South Bay school-board members to dismiss the superintendent.
Superintendent Jesus Gandara has made a number of Union-Tribune headlines of late. An article on Gandara’s daughter’s wedding highlighted his financial ties to Proposition O contractors; another article questioned his use of a district credit card (the account was subsequently canceled).
Brinkman said that as she and Brickley approached the board room, they could see people sitting inside; however, they were prevented from entering by a district representative who told them the empty seats were saved for administrators and presenters. They put in a call to the district attorney’s office and were advised that they were within their rights to go into the meeting. Brickley and Brinkman then went around the district employee who had tried to block their entrance, and they took a seat.
Shortly thereafter, a 911 call brought a Chula Vista police officer to the scene. “It was a little scary, but we knew we hadn’t done anything wrong,” Brinkman said. She told the officer, “We’re not causing a disturbance,” and they were allowed to stay.
Another attendee interviewed for this story, Maty Adano, corroborated Brinkman’s account of the events and said she didn’t understand why there often were either Harbor Police or Chula Vista police at the Sweetwater meetings.
Superintendent Gandara and board member Bertha Lopez were not available for comment. However, Lillian Leopold, the director of the district’s grants and communications, returned the call I’d made to Gandara.
Leopold said that for at least six months it has been the district’s policy to have someone standing outside board meetings and taking names because of overflow crowds. On the night in question, Leopold said there was a substitute employee taking names “who didn’t know the protocol...missteps may have been taken.”
(Regarding some teachers’ and parents’ intent to express their desire to have Gandara dismissed at the meeting, the board does not respond to public communications items; they are only allowed to respond to agendized items.)
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