Parents launch fresh suit to quash Lesson 9
Updated 6:00 a.m. Friday, February 19
A pair of Alameda parents is suing the school district and school board, claiming the board violated the Brown Act by voting to readopt the anti-gay bullying Lesson 9 and to adopt accompanying literature that they said wasn’t included in staff’s original recommendation.
Kerry Cook and Serena Dietrich filed a suit in Alameda County Superior Court today that seeks to nullify the school board’s December 8, 2009 vote to readopt Lesson 9 and to adopt a Links to Literature guide. Cook and Dietrich’s attorney, Peter Hagberg, said the district added the Links guide at the last minute and that it didn’t have re-adoption of Lesson 9 on the agenda for the December 8 meeting. He also claimed the guide was not available when he went to the district’s office to view it.
Hagberg wrote the district a letter on January 4 asking them to rescind the vote and then told school board members at their February 9 meeting that he intended to sue if they did not do so. Hagberg did not return a call seeking comment.
The district’s attorney, Danielle Houck, said Thursday afternoon that the district hadn’t been served with the suit yet but that it doesn’t believe it violated the Brown Act. “The District does not believe that it violated the Brown Act and intends to vigorously defend the litigation. We have tendered the complaint to our insurance carrier and expect that Lou Leone and Katie Alberts of Stubbs & Leone, the same lawyers who successfully represented the District in the Lesson 9 litigation, will defend the District in this litigation,” Houck wrote in response to a request for comment on the suit.
The board voted 4-1 to adopt the Links to Literature guide and to keep Lesson 9 in place until it was able to adopt curriculum to replace it, with Trustee Trish Spencer casting the lone “no” vote. Spencer had maintained that a vote earlier in the evening in which the board opted to maintain its existing Caring School Community lessons and add other lessons for upper elementary grades closed the matter, but her colleagues on the board disagreed.
Hagberg had said at that meeting that the recommendation to adopt Links to Literature wasn’t on the agenda 72 hours before the meeting as is required by the Brown Act, and that he was unable to view the book when he visited the district’s offices. Board President Ron Mooney and Vice President Mike McMahon said at the December 8 meeting that they would be willing to wait until the board’s next meeting to approve the Links guide.
But Houck said the recommendation to adopt the guide was posted with 72 hours notice as the Brown Act requires, and she and Interim Assistant Superintendent Ruben Zepeda said the guide was available, though Zepeda said there may have been a mixup when Hagberg came to view it (basically, he said the book wasn’t in its usual spot when Hagberg came to see it).
Superintendent Kirsten Vital said her recommendation had been to keep Lesson 9 in place until the district approved a list of other books that would replace Lesson 9 and address bullying based on other factors, including race, religion and disability.
Cook is a founder of Alameda Concerned Parents, a group that opposed Lesson 9, while Dietrich was one of the original signers of a petition to recall the three school board members who voted to approve Lesson 9 in May 2009.
The case number is RG10498999.