Can the Richland School Board Fire Recall Button Wearing Teachers?
Richland School Board Member Threatens to Fire Teachers in Email
Richland Washington School Board Vice Chair Audra Byrd threatened to fire any school employee that wears a button supporting the recall that she faces, but can she actually do it?
"The Recall is About Elected Officials Being Held Responsible for Unlawful Actions They Took While in Office"
The residents of the Richland Washington school district started a petition to remove Audra Byrd, Semi Bird, and Kari Williams and proposed it to Superior Court Judge Norma Rodriguez on May 11, 2022. The petition alleged the board members broke the law on 5 different counts:
1-Violated the Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30) by voting at a special meeting taking final action on a matter, to wit: masking optional, that had not been included in the published public meeting agenda.
2-Held non-public meetings in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.
3-Voted to make masks at schools optional, in knowing violation of the law and in excess of the powers of a school board, even after warnings from the state and from legal counsel.
4-Violated the district code of ethics by failing to: (1) uphold all laws, rules and regulations, and/or (2) use legal and ethical procedures; and/or (3) ensure schools are well run; and/or (4) consult those affected by changes in policy.
5-Violated district policies and procedures by failing to assure compliance with law and policy.
After a Legal Fight, One Count Removed
Superior Court Judge Norma Rodriguez originally said the charges met Washington State standards for recall, but after a legal battle, one count was dropped from the petition.
The count removed was labeled "Held non-public meetings in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act."
After the one count was removed, the petition was approved by the Washington State Supreme Court on February 9th, 2023 finding the counts were "factually and legally sufficient" to continue the recall.
Signatures Need to be Collected for Richland Recall Vote in August
Now that the Washington State Supreme Court has approved the recall, the next step is to collect enough signatures to vote on the recall in August.
The amount of signatures needed for recall differs slightly by each director because the number is based on 25% of the total amount cast FOR them in the election.
According to the Richland School Board recall webpage, 6,000 votes for each would be enough. The organization is holding Petition signings with one today ( Friday March 3rd, 2023) at Jefferson Park from 4-5 pm.
Richland School Board Member Threatens to Fire Employees
According to multiple sources including the Richland School Board Recall website, board Vice Chair Audra Byrd claimed in an email to the superintendent, the head of human resources, and another Richland School Board member this quote below.
"Since there is apparently a misunderstanding, let me make it very clear that if I hear of a single staff member passing around a political petition on school grounds or wearing a political button on school grounds, I will file a formal complaint and ask for that staff member to be immediately fired for violating district policy."
Can the Richland School Board Fire a School Employee for Buttons?
The Washington State law specifically addresses this topic but does not show it is an offense you can be immediately removed from.
The law Washington State RCW 42.17A.555 states: "No elective official nor any employee of his or her office nor any person appointed to or employed by any public office or agency may use or authorize the use of any of the facilities of a public office or agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition."
Richland Superintendent Sends Recommendations to Staff
The Richland Superintendent sent an all-staff letter a few weeks after the Supreme Court approved the recall to continue.
In the letter, he linked to the State recommendations for this issue and said "I recommend staff not wear recall-related buttons. I feel that such buttons could lead to workplace disruption and hamper our ability to provide students an education in a safe and effective environment."
Richland Teachers Think the District is Overstepping
Representatives for teachers think the district is overstepping its rights after digging into the law. The Richland School District does not have any policy about buttons in their Board Policies.
Even if the buttons break Richland School District policy, would it still be an immediately fireable offense? These questions are made even more complicated by the conflict of interest in the local decisions to these questions.
Can Richland School Employees Be Fired for Wearing Buttons?
Right now, the Richland School District is not even sure what the official policy will be. The Superintendent has hired an outside legal counsel to review the cast and form a more precise policy.
The superintendent says "We will look at issuing a memo, vetted by legal, to all staff that covers what we know relative to the recall activities in the RSD work environment. Hopefully, that will get us all on the same page."
You can read more about the details of the recall on the Richland School Board Recall website.