School district’s petition for restraining orders continues
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Donna Geck rejected an anti-SLAPP motion from Cold Spring School parent Amanda Rowan Friday — part of an ongoing legal battle between Ms. Rowan and the Cold Spring School District.
The conflict drifted out of email inboxes and into public spheres this fall as Ms. Rowan frequently penned letters to the editors of multiple local publications and Superintendent/Principal Dr. Amy Alzina released statements in her weekly newsletter.
The standoff culminated March 10 when the Montecito district filed restraining orders against Ms. Rowan on behalf of two teachers, a spouse and the superintendent’s executive assistant/HR representative.
The anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion is used by defendants to dismiss lawsuits designed to limit First Amendment rights. As stated in Judge Geck’s ruling, Ms. Rowan “asserts that the petition is designed to chill (Ms.) Rowan’s right to free speech.”
Ms. Rowan is an outspoken critic of the district and has repeatedly called for extensive audits of funds.
But Judge Geck ruled the statements provided in the lawsuit were not of public interest but were “expressions of rage.”
The judge continued to say the district proved a “probability of success” as it moves toward the petition’s June 9 hearing.
(If Ms. Rowan had proved her actions were protected by the anti-SLAPP statute, the obligation would have moved to the district to prove it could win its petition.)
The ruling focuses on a conversation Ms. Rowan had with Coral Godlis, who serves as Dr. Alzina’s executive assistant, in March.
Ms. Rowan thought the district had fired her friend who teaches at the school and confiscated that teacher’s cellphone. She allegedly threatened litigation in an “extremely agitated and aggressive” tone, full of profanity, according to the court documents.
According to the documents, Ms. Rowan allegedly yelled that she would “sue everyone at the school, including you, Coral!”
Ms. Rowan admitted to making threats of legal action but has denied making threats of physical or other violence. Both she and the district reported that Ms. Rowan called the next day to apologize. But according to court documents, Ms. Goldlis said in her March 4 declaration that she felt like that call was further intimidation.
The ruling states that the district doesn’t have evidence of “unlawful violence” and instead must prove a “credible threat of violence.”
Judge Geck said she infers that Ms. Rowan’s alleged use of profanity, tone and volume could have made Ms. Godlis fear violence.
The ruling also cites an incident that, for now, is hearsay.
In March, the court did not grant temporary restraining orders (a common request in workplace violence cases).
One of those teachers seeking protection, Mari Callahan, resigned during a board meeting May 10 saying “enough is enough” in reference to attacks against her.
The resignation came before a presentation on a possible Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team audit of Bond Measure C (2008), an action Ms. Rowan repeatedly advocates for.
While previous audits have confirmed that the district’s files look satisfactory, a FCMAT audit is more involved and can reveal fraud (as it did in an audit of Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista).
Both parties were uncomfortable being quoted, but Dr. Alzina provided a statement via email to the News-Press: “The safety of our students and staff is our top priority at the Cold Spring School District. We are humbled and grateful the Court recognized the importance of our efforts to maintain a safe school environment for our staff and students. We are sincerely hoping that we can now refocus our energy on providing our children the best public education possible.”