Options are extremely limited for the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board in the effort to oust member Ned Evans, attorney Stuart Knade. Having been chief legal counsel at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association for at least a decade, Knade noted there are many instances where school boards ran into legal limitations on such matters.
“I know of numerous occasions where, in the face of outcry, board members engaged in reprehensible behavior have just stuck to their guns the whole time,” Knade said. He confirmed Wilkes-Barre Area Solicitor Ray Wendolowski’s legal position that the board’s eight other members — who unanimously called for Evans’ resignation last week — can only vote to remove him from his seat if he misses two consecutive meetings without cause.
The board made the unusual move July 10 following public outcry over a comment Evans posted on Facebook regarding a story of alleged sex between a female teacher and a 13-year-old student in Arizona. Superintendent Brian Costello issued a statement saying he and the other board members were asking for Evans resignation, a request he has repeatedly rejected.
Board Member Melissa Patla issued her own statement later in the week saying she will ask Evans to resign at the Aug. 7 meeting. Evans has insisted he apologized for the Facebook comment about oral sex between the teacher and the student, admitting it was a mistake but insisting he will stay on the board.
Knade noted law enforcement officials — typically the county district attorney — also have some power to force the removal of a school board member, but that would be an option only under very narrow circumstances such as conviction for a felony or having no residency in the school district.
The latter was the reason the Luzerne County District Attorney’s office began looking into board member Robert Corcoran’s residency in 2013, after Corcoran had moved to Germany but initially attended a board meeting via Skype. The DA’s actions became moot when Corcoran missed two meetings, allowing the board to vote to declare his seat vacant.
Knade said there have been instances where school boards felt so strongly about a board member’s behavior that they passed a resolution to further distance themselves from that member’s actions, officially condemning the actions or calling for the member’s resignation. But that would not force a member off the board.
Asked if the board could take further action, such as removing a member from all board committees or from appointments to other outside positions — Evans is one of the Wilkes-Barre Area representatives on the Joint Operating Committee that runs the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center — Knade said state law is largely silent on those issues so they would fall under a specific board’s policies.
But even if a policy allowed removal of a member from a committee, the board could risk a lawsuit. In this case, because Evans has been criticized for a post on a friend’s Facebook page, such a lawsuit would likely allege denial of free speech.
Evans has already said he is considering a suit against Richard Holodick, the president of the Save Our Schools group organized in opposition to a high school consolidation plan Evans has strongly stood behind.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish