Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing Jann-Michael Greenburg, current school board member and former school board President of the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD), for violating Arizona's Open Meeting Law. Filed on June 20, the 28-page lawsuit, State v. Greenburg contends Greenburg "knowingly structuring an agenda and meeting to prohibit public comment about a proposed mask mandate and other subjects" during the summer of 2021.
SUSD Mask Mandate
Jann-Michael Greenburg/ SUSD YouTube/Aug. 23 Governing Board Meeting/No Public Comment allowed
According to a press release from the Office of the Attorney General, Brnovich seeks to have "Greenburg removed, impose civil penalties on the board, and ensure no future Open Meeting Law (OML) violations occur." Brnovich contends in the lawsuit that Greenburg "knowingly appli[ed] unauthorized content-based restrictions on public comment made during a board meeting, and knowingly cutting off or otherwise interrupting speakers during a call to the public."
A look at the SUSD YouTube channel shows the Board was aware of an issue with how the meeting was conducted. A letter from the Board posted at the beginning of the August 23, 2021, live-streamed meeting states there was "confusion" about public comment rules during an August 17 meeting. The Board says that only regular meetings are subject to OML and, therefore, allow public comment. They also contend that public comment is not allowed at special meetings and those meetings are not subject to OML. They further clarify that during the special meeting, two agenda items "required a 'public hearing' and members of the public may only speak to the "specific topic under consideration."
SUSD/August 23 Meeting Notice
As a result of the "confusion" the Board explains in the future, they will more clearly delineate between public and special meetings by separating public hearings from "a regular meeting of the Governing Board."
Additionally, the Board references the need to "ensure the safe and orderly conduct of the meeting agenda in consultation with the police department in light of past experience." The "past experience" refers to meetings during the spring of 2021 on Jann-Micheal Greenburg's alleged participation in the doxxing of parents found in a "digital dossier." He and others in the district created a dossier and made it public to allegedly expose parents who disagreed with SUSD's policies on masks and CRT.
The August 17 meeting featured an introduction of a Notice of Special Meeting and Public Hearing. The notice attempts to clarify the rules referenced in the August 23 letter. It states that "members of the public will not be permitted to attend [the Board meeting] in person but will be able to view the public portions of this meeting online" during the live stream. The meeting addressed pandemic-related issues like quarantine and masks. One speaker referenced that "masks not being worn in school" resulted in "definite increases in the [amount] of students needing quarantine."
Part of the August 17 meeting allowed for public comment, as referenced in the August 23 school board letter. The basis for the lawsuit becomes clearer during the public comment section. Parents are heard struggling with what was, at the time, over a year of restrictions on families. Many parents commented the restrictions were ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
August 17 Notice of Special Meeting and Public Hearing
The lives-streamed meeting shows how some parents who deviated from the prescribed script were treated. One mother is heard speaking about the mask mandate—subject matter that departed from the outlined agenda to comment on the "first read of instructional time model." She is cut off by Greenburg in mid-sentence.
Other parents also chime in with scathing comments on the district's "inequitable" handling of children during the pandemic. Dan Curtain, a father in the district, opens with "here we go again," referring to the school board meetings and the policies related to the pandemic. Curtain continues:
"'First read of the instructional time model'?!? Is all that we're allowed to make comments on? — which is really sort of shady. I am kind of surprised. Well, actually, I'm not surprised at this. This meeting is not only online because the Board won't face parents that are upset about everything that's going on, especially about the first read, yadda, yadda, yadda. But again, this is Dan Curtin and I just can't believe that the Board is going through this whole thing again. Here we go again. He said that you're trying to be creative and figure out how to help the students. You can help the students by having normal school. All the things that you're doing, all this mitigation, whatever. It doesn't work. We've been through this. And parents have the right to make health care choices for their kids. Thank you."
Another parent, Amanda Wray, entered her public comments with a heartwrenching account of students whose lives were turned upside down. Many healthy children were sent home "by no fault of their own, as many as five times, missing dozens of days of in-person instruction" due to "inequitable policy with the handling of close contact quarantining of healthy students."
Relating her own experiences as a child of a single mother, Wray shared stories of young children whose parents were trying to work and manage the restrictive COVID-19 policies while also trying to keep their children healthy and mentally sane.
"Not all families in Scottsdale have the resources to support learning during repeated quarantines. Some will have their jobs threatened when they're forced to miss work. Put yourself in the shoes of a fifth-grader. With a single mom who works two jobs to put food on the table. Now imagine that you are now the reason she can't go to work and eventually loses her job because she must stay home with you while you wait out your quarantine. How does this make a student feel included? Testing allows you to return early, except it's almost impossible to find free testing right now, so students whose families can't afford to pay for testing go back, while those families who can't wait out their sentences. You then have to explain to your classmates that your family can't afford to test, or you make up a story to spare yourself the embarrassment. I wasn't born wealthy. If COVID had occurred in 1988, as the daughter of a registered nurse, I would have been left alone to fend for myself at the age of 10 while caring for my 6-year-old brother.
Thankfully, an equitable education allowed me to escape poverty. As adults, we have already asked too much of our children. We've complied with the promise that if we just do this or that, we can all go back to normal. But the goal posts keep moving. Where is the off-ramp?! Masking our children with zero cases is unreasonable. Putting masks back on our children and sentencing them to repeated quarantines is child abuse. We won't be able to measure those effects for years to come."
Before she could finish her three minutes, she was also silenced by Greenburg, who reminded speakers again that public comment was strictly limited to the "first read of instructional time model for 2021 and 2022."
Brnovich's lawsuit lays out the case that Greenburg and his cohorts on the Board violated the OML by cutting off many of the parents in mid-sentence—in what he describes as a "content-based restriction on speech." In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Greenburg "purposely bifurcated the agenda for the August 17, 2021 meeting to avoid allowing public comment on a proposed mask mandate and other items listed on the agenda under the 'special meeting.'" Greenburg "purposefully" structured the meeting "to avoid comment," Brnovich contends.
The lawsuit clarifies:
"Purposefully structuring a meeting so as to apply content-based restrictions on public comments addressing an issue listed on the same agenda and discussed at the same meeting transforms the public comment session into something other than an 'open call to the public.'"
Brnovich concludes that the limitations imposed are "likely to result in significant public confusion and distrust."
Parents were subjected to similar violations of their free speech at other school board meetings during the summer of 2021. On August 24, those who wished to comment publicly were required to do so in person. However, the meeting was live-streamed, and "no audience was allowed to attend in person." The wait was long. Parents were ushered in one-by-one, and, on several occasions, Greenburg interrupted parents' comments "to claim that the comments were not true and to attempt to explain why." One parent allegedly "correctly explained to Greenburg that he is not permitted to interrupt public comments." At one point, Greenburg "concluded his remarks with, "Jesus F***ing Christ people!"