Board of Education authorizes suits against Douglas

The Arizona State Board of Education voted Tuesday to sue Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas if she doesn’t comply with longstanding directives on access to data and the board’s website.

“This board has given the superintendent the opportunity to correct her actions, and her response has been to just politically grandstand and continue that as we move forward,” board member Charles Schmidt said at a special meeting.

The board voted unanimously to take “any and all necessary steps” to ensure the superintendent gives board investigators remote access to Arizona Department of Education files and directories and redirects Web traffic to the board’s independent website.

The board’s order to give remote access came in May, when board employees were moving out of the Department of Education building to space in the Arizona State Capitol’s Executive Tower as tensions with Douglas flared.

Douglas has refused to give the board’s Investigative Unit virtual access to documents and records in the Department of Education, citing her authority as the superintendent.

“The current situation is unconscionable in my opinion, in excluding our investigators from full access to the needed information and possibly endangering students that we serve, as well as the integrity of this board,” Schmidt said.

Douglas didn’t attend the meeting and instead released an emailed statement that criticized Board President Greg Miller. She reiterated her accusation that Miller grabbed her arm at an Aug. 24 meeting.

“Unable to control his temper at any disagreement, he has become focused on using seating assignments and mute buttons to suppress all opposing views,” Douglas’ statement said. “Mr. Miller has changed the SBE from a deliberative body interested in the welfare of our children to a bi-monthly publicity stunt used to advance his own agenda.”

Miller has repeatedly denied the claim that he grabbed Douglas.

“My own personal opinion is, I wish it would end, that she join the team and start working for kids with the board, instead of against the board,” he said Tuesday.

The other possible lawsuit surrounds the board’s website. The board operates an independent website, but the Arizona Department of Education still has a page on its site dedicated to the board.

The board also discussed how it will fill two employee vacancies: former Deputy Director Sabrina Vazquez, who left in July, and Executive Director Christine Thompson, who will leave the board on Nov. 6.

Douglas attempted to fire Vazquez and Thompson in February, calling them “liberal staff” who openly advocated for Common Core standards in Arizona.

But Vazquez and Thompson returned to work after Gov. Doug Ducey said Douglas lacked the authority to fire board employees. The State Board of Education then voted for Vazquez and Thompson’s reinstatement.

Thompson participated in Tuesday’s meeting, and board members commended her for working through seven tumultuous months.

“We understand. I commiserate with you,” Miller said. “There (has) been one or more than one time where I wondered why I was still doing this. But for you and your family, it’s time.”

Douglas sued the board over who has the right to hire and fire employees, and a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in the board’s favor. She has appealed the decision.