Prince William County School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers is taking Superintendent Steven Walts to court in an effort to gain access to his predecessors’ emails.
Sawyers (At Large) filed a “petition for writ of mandamus” in Prince William County Circuit Court against Walts Tuesday. The petition asks a judge to order Walts to provide the petitioner – Sawyers — “immediate access to school board communications whether from previous boards or the current board.”
Sawyers shared the petition with the Times Tuesday and said he decided to file it because he’s convinced emails sent and received by school board members belong to duly elected members of those offices, and that Walts has no right to withhold them.
“I have the right to educate myself about how things were done in the past by my office,” Sawyers said. “I shouldn’t have to ask the administration to please allow me access to my emails.”
News of the petition took Walts by surprise Tuesday evening. The superintendent said he had not yet been told it was filed and had not yet read it.
Still, Walts explained why he has so far declined Sawyers access to previous school board members’ emails, saying he doesn’t want to disclose private information protected by federal law, including information specific to individual students, or violate the school board’s own recently approved code of ethics.
Earlier this school year, the school board adopted a code of ethics that says, in part, “individual board members have no authority to direct division staff.”
“I’m not arguing whether or not he’s able to look at past emails,” Walts said. “But in their own code of ethics they all agreed that no individual board member can direct division staff… they are a body corporate.”
Walts said he suggested that Sawyers take the matter to the full board for a vote.
“If the board directs me to do what he’s asking, I’m going to comply with the board vote,” Walts said.
Sawyers has so far declined to bring his request to the full board. Interviews with some school board members Tuesday indicate a division of opinion on the issue.
OK, I have to say it–What the hell is the matter with this guy? I have kept my mouth shut on most matters regarding the school board, or at least since the Godwin name was stripped away. I don’t like acts done in the middle of the night, behind the people’s backs.
I have seen a whole lot out of Sawyers that I just don’t like, but I have kept my mouth shut, for several reasons. One, I wanted to give him a chance. He came out of the starting gate a little rough. Secondly, I have spent an entire career being at the mercy of the PWC School Board and I wanted to forget about the school system. I have told at least one blogger friend that I just don’t care any more.
But I do care. Why is Sawyers suing his own Superintendent? Why can’t he go by the rules of the PWCSB? Why must he always attempt to rule by intimidation? Why must he always be either partisan or self-serving? I don’t care about his baseball league battles. I certainly don’t want to pay for them.
Milt Johns and other past chairs are entitled to some modicum of privacy. Chairman Sawyers is not entitled to someone else’s email except by direct FOIA request. (I want to start whispering “Rule of Law.”) The entire board has not voted on the matter. I expect they will not affirm Sawyers’ request. A school board is not a body of one.
It seems to me and please correct me if I am wrong–that Chairman Sawyers is using his position to bully others and to rule in an undemocratic way. I think education should be non-partisan. The issues aren’t Democratic or Republican issues–they are kid issues.
When school boards do not work in concert towards a common goal, then the kids suffer and the employees suffer. As a former employee, I don’t want to see kids or employees suffer. The school board should be paving the way, clearing the road of obstacles, not continually creating them. That is what Chairman Sawyers appears to be doing, from my perspective–creating obstacles for his own self-serving purposes.
Someone please help me understand what this man is all about. I see him as a very destructive force to Prince William County Schools and to the taxpayers of Prince William County. Please someone, prove to me that my assessment of the situation is wrong.