Paradise Valley Board Member: District Violated Open Meeting Law To Close Schools, Redraw Boundaries

Paradise Valley Board Member: District Violated Open Meeting Law To Close Schools, Redraw Boundaries

By Corinne Murdock |

A Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) governing board member is alleging the district violated open meeting law to determine school closures and redraw boundary lines. 

In a letter to the Arizona Attorney General on Tuesday, PVUSD Governing Board Member Sandra Christensen accused district leadership of violating state open meeting law with several secretive committees that she says didn’t function to advise the superintendent as purported but had, in fact, functioned to deliver policy recommendations to the governing board. Christensen urged prompt action from the attorney general, citing a potential upcoming vote on Thursday to shut down and redraw boundaries for certain schools based on recommendations from at least one of these committees. 

Specifically, Christensen brought up the School Closure and Boundary Review Committee, which conducted seven meetings from last April through November, all closed to the public and originally absent any agendas or meeting minutes. The committee consisted of some community members, including PVUSD teachers, support staff, administrators, central office administrators, and parents, and was led by assistant superintendents Jill Baragan and Steve Jerras.

Christensen expressed concern that the district used this committee to deliberately hide “controversial” discussions on school closures and boundary changes not only from the public, but the governing board itself. 

“The Paradise Valley Unified School District must cease these unlawful practices,” said Christensen. “These practices are clearly intended to avoid public scrutiny by refusing to allow members of the public to attend said meetings and refusing to supply detailed meeting minutes to the PVUSD governing board or members of the public.”

Christensen said that the committee meetings yielded recommendations for the governing board regarding the potential closures of four schools and boundary changes to 12 schools, on which the board took action in December by scheduling a public hearing last month. Christensen was the only board member to oppose the recommendations, under concern that the committee had violated open meeting law. 

“It is clear that the team is designed to advise the board regarding matters on only the governing board can make such as the recommendation of school closures,” said Christensen. 

The School Closure and Boundary Review Committee wasn’t the only committee formed over the years in violation of open meeting law, according to Christensen.

“The Paradise Valley Unified School District has a history of these types of violations under the guise of superintendent committees that are not administrative in nature, they are advisory committees to the board that deliberately circumvent Open Meeting Law to shield controversial topics or information from the public,” said Christensen. 

Christensen cited another superintendent advisory committee, a bond committee, which met from last January through April to craft recommendations on a bond, as well as a “secretive,” ongoing community legislative network, which Christensen said has met “for many years” to discuss legislative bills with a lobbyist. 

According to Christensen, PVUSD Superintendent Troy Bales denies that the committees have ever been more than administrative in nature.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Paradise Valley Board Member: District Violated Open Meeting Law To Close Schools, Redraw Boundaries

Paradise Valley Board Member: District Withheld Truth About Allegedly Predatory Teacher

By Corinne Murdock |

A Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) board member is criticizing district leadership for withholding the truth about an allegedly predatory teacher from parents and the community.

The Phoenix Police Department is investigating the late Keiko Yoshimine, a Paradise Valley High School chemistry teacher and Horizon High School basketball coach, on allegations of inappropriate conduct with a female high school student. Yoshimine allegedly committed suicide last month, a day after she had admitted to inappropriate behavior during police questioning; no arrest was made. 

In a press release, PVUSD Governing Board Member Sandra Christensen pointed out that PVUSD has implemented other mental and behavioral health supports — such as the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Whole Child initiatives, and partnerships with behavioral health clinics — yet declined to bring attention to an immediate alleged danger to children. 

“It is ironic how the district seems so concerned with mental health that we focus more on emotional well-being than academics; however, when an actual crisis occurs, it gets swept under the rug. […] I have to question the motives of district leadership and whether expressions of concern for the safety and well-being of all our students are more than just lip service,” said Christensen. “At what point did the district start caring more about the image of the administration rather than the safety of our children? […] Hiding egregious violations or allegations of crimes, including child endangerment, should never be tolerated.”

Christensen revealed that she had urged PVUSD leadership, including Superintendent Troy Bales and Governing Board President Nancy Case, to advise the district community about the investigation into Yoshimine, since the district’s letter advising the community of Yoshimine’s death omitted the allegations of sexual misconduct against her. Christensen also recommended that district leadership notify parents of students in Yoshimine’s class and on Yoshimine’s sports teams of the allegations against their teacher and coach.

Bales turned down Christensen’s advice. Bales informed Christensen that the district’s legal counsel had advised them to not inform the public about the Yoshimine investigation until given direction to do so by law enforcement. 

“At this time and advised by legal counsel, the District will continue to take direction from Phoenix PD regarding expanding inquiry to other students,” stated Bales. 

According to Christensen, Bales had informed her on the day police questioned Yoshimine that Yoshimine’s fingerprint clearance card would be suspended should she be arrested.

Christensen reported that it was only after social media publicization of the investigation into Yoshimine preempting her untimely death that PVUSD leadership offered the parents and community members more information about the police investigation. 

“In the case of Ms. Yoshimine, I am deeply saddened that our students and families were not told the truth in a timely manner,” said Christensen. 

As AZ Free News reported previously, there have been over 50 Arizona educators (along with over 20 certified in Arizona) accused of sexual misconduct with minors this year. Yoshimine was not named among those educators, nor are there any mentions of her in past Arizona State Board of Education meeting files. 

The public is urged to come forward with any information of sexual misconduct or harm to a PVUSD student in the Yoshimine case, or in any other case. Please file a report with the Phoenix or Scottsdale police and PVUSD. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Conservative Parents Find Hope In Superintendent and School Board Races

Conservative Parents Find Hope In Superintendent and School Board Races

By Loretta Hunnicutt |

From the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to local school board positions, several conservatives are currently leading or have already won key races on the education front in the 2022 General Election.

As of press time, Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), Tom Horne, had increased his lead in his challenge of incumbent Kathy Hoffman. Horne previously served as SPI from 2003 to 2011, prior to successfully running for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. If the results hold up, Horne says his focus as SPI will be on improving student performance and eradicating Critical Race Theory-based curriculum from Arizona’s public schools.

In the Peoria Unified School District race, Heather Rooks won a hard-fought and challenging race. Her efforts to expose the Social Emotional Learning-based policies and practices in the district eventually led her to request an injunction against an activist parent. As reported by the Arizona Daily Independent, Rooks, a mother of four school-aged children, obtained the injunction based on threats from Democrat activist, Josh Gray.

Two other conservative candidates, Amy Carney and Carine Werner, secured seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Governing Board. Their victories serve as a powerful repudiation of out-going Governing Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg. Greenburg was sued by parents who accused him of trying to silence them after they exposed his secret Google Drive dossier on them. As AZ Free News reported in April, that dossier included a trove of political opposition research on parents, who opposed the district’s adoption of Social Emotional Learning and Critical Race Theory.

In the race for Flowing Wells School District Governing Board—an area known for being blue—conservative Brianna Hernandez Hamilton is currently holding on to one of two open spots. A mother of three very young children, Hernandez Hamilton ran with the slogan: “Parents + Teachers = Quality Education.”

Kurt Rohrs, a long-time education activist and frequent contributor to AZ Free News, won a spot on the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. Rohrs, like Horne, focused on improving student performance and eliminating the divisive Critical Race Theory from the district’s curriculum. Many see Rohrs’ presence on the board as an opportunity to restore calm to the district which had become the center of controversy thanks to out-going board member Lindsay Love.

In the race for Dysart Unified School District Governing Board, conservative Dawn Densmore was retained by voters. As current president of the board, Densmore successfully led the fight to end the district’s relationship with the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). Jennifer Drake also won a seat on the board.

Sandra Christensen is set to win a seat on the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board. Libby Settle and Madicyn Reid are in the lead for spots in Fountain Hills. Paul Carver should take a win in Deer Valley. Jackie Ulmer appears to have been successful in Cave Creek as well as Rachel Walden in Mesa and Chad Thompson in Gilbert. In the Higley Unified School District, conservative Anna Van Hoek also won a seat on the board.

In a tweet from earlier this week, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos summed up what many parents have been feeling over the past few years – left out. In response to the National Education Association’s claim that teachers “know better than anyone” what students need in the classroom, DeVos responded, “You misspelled parents.”