Manzone resignation ignites firestorm over Sunshine Law violation

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website, The Kennett Paper‘s website and the Avon Grove Sun‘s website.
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District school board held a special meeting to accept Holly Manzone's resignation Oct. 28. (Candice Monhollan)

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District school board held a special meeting to accept Holly Manzone’s resignation Oct. 28. (Candice Monhollan)

UNIONVILLE – The sudden resignation last week of Unionville-Chadds Ford school director Holly Manzone and her allegations that the district was violating Sunshine Laws led to a special meeting Monday night where school directors both thanked her for her public service, and chastised her for her allegations.

The board approved her resignation in front of about 40 in attendance.

“Dr. Manzone’s claims of a rubber stamp school board, of avoiding real issues that need to be addresses, of frowning on open discussion, on squelching dissent and preventing public discussion on contentious issues and violations of the Sunshine Law are so outrageous that they must be totally unbelievable to anyone who attends school board meetings,” said board member Jeff Hellrung.

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

Hellrung focused directly on Manzone’s “final straw” regarding the violation of residency requirements and the “deal” that was apparently struck with John Sanville, schools superintendent.

Manzone released a nine-page follow-up to provide perspective on her statements made.

“I stand by what I said in my resignation letter,” Manzone stated in the latest letter. “I believe it fairly and accurately portrays the behavior of the Board and administration and identifies areas where improvements are needed. What I have seen over the past week has only confirmed what I said. Clearly, the board and district administration are more interested in looking good than in making improvements.”

The residency issue raised by Mazone refers to one family who, in May 2012, was determined by the administration to be living outside of the district and must pay the tuition for the time the children attended the school and they were disenrolled.

School district policy mandates all students enrolled at Unionville schools live within the district.

According to Manzone in her letter, the family had negotiations, meetings and correspondence with the superintendent about future residency with “coaching from the district to the family on what the family’s position could be.”

“There is no ‘bright-line’ rule defining residency in state law, yet inexplicably decided to provide one with minimal residency expectations in this case,” said Manzone in her letter. “This enabled the family to attend district schools, while still availing themselves to their ex-district property, and without the risk and cost of litigating residency.”

But to Hellrung, it’s not so clear-cut.

“The legal determination of residency can be complicated, as it is in this case. We’re guided not only by school code, but interpretive court cases,” Hellrung said. “The district did confirm through investigative reports that the family in question did not meet residency requirements in 2012.”

He went on to say the students were disenrolled and then pledged to relocate within the district, at which time the students were reenrolled. The administration committed to follow-up to make sure the family did what they pledged.

“Before going further, I’ll admit that this is a case where Dr. Manzone’s claim that the school board tried to avoid any embarrassment to the administration or the board … is true,” Hellrung said. “However, it’s true in a shocking way that has never been publically revealed until tonight.”

According to Hellrung, Manzone, without permission from Sanville or any member of the board, conducted video surveillance of the family during the first two days of this current school year. She was spotted by the mother when she was taking the students to school.

“Dr. Manzone then followed the apparently and understandably terrified parent, exposing the child or children to a dangerous situation on the open road,” he said. “Eventually, the parent was able to elude Dr. Manzone by pulling off the road.”

On the following day, Manzone once again returned to the family’s home, but found no children. Instead, the other parent “aggressively approached” Dr. Manzone in a vehicle, causing her to flee.

A car chase ensued with the parent close to the Manzone’s bumper and did not come to an end until Manzone pulled into the barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police.

The statement was confirmed by Sanville, who said “ came here to intervene on the family’s behalf.”

Hellrung said that the residency case has been mishandled since the beginning, which has been going on during the tenure of three superintendents and he intends to propose an independent investigation of the case.

“Whatever missteps or misjudgments may have been made by our administrators over the years, they pale in comparison to the reckless, irresponsible and dangerous behavior of Dr. Manzone,” Hellrung said. “It is not the role of the school board directors to appoint themselves private investigators.

“Dr. Manzone should not be resigning in protest, but in shame,” Hellrung said.

School Director Kathleen Do, along with many others on the board, said all members of the board, including Sanville, have been respectful to everyone’s opinions, whether they agreed with them or not.

Do said she disagrees with Manzone’s accusations.

Said board member Keith Knauss: “I’m proud to admit that I have pre-meetings, exchange e-mail messages and talk on the phone often with fellow board members and administrators before meetings,” Knauss said. “There is nothing unethical, nefarious, or illegal as Dr. Manzone would have you believe.

Knauss admitted Manzone was denied a request to see confidential surveillance reports on the family in question on Oct. 7 during an executive session.

Despite her resignation and the turmoil it has caused between the board and the community, Manzone was still awarded the crystal apple for her four years of service, which was accepted by her husband.

“It is with the utmost sincerity and gratitude that we recognize Holly’s many earnest contributions to the board and her dire pursuit of what she thought was right,” Sanville said. “We hope that it will be a reminder of her time here.”


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Categories: Education

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