Board to Consider Censuring Norgaard

The San Marino Unified School District’s Board of Education will consider a formal censure against board member Chris Norgaard at a meeting Friday morning, seven days after a federal judge ordered the two parties to have a settlement conference regarding Norgaard’s lawsuit against the board and other district officials.
A proposed resolution calling for the censure reiterates the district’s demand that Norgaard undergo remedial training to correct behavior that two district investigations have concluded crossed professional boundaries and created an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment for multiple district employees. This resolution is the only item on the agenda for the special board meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m. Friday, July 27.
“Mr. Norgaard has requested a brief postponement of this proposed board action pending the court-ordered mediation of the lawsuit,” said attorney Guy Glazier, who represents Norgaard, in an email Tuesday morning.
District officials did not comment on that request before The Outlook’s press time on Tuesday.
Norgaard, an attorney who has served on the school board since 2003, is suing his four peers on the board, Superintendent Alex Cherniss and Assistant Superintendent Linda de la Torre for their roles in the two investigations. The first concerned allegations that he had kissed more than one district employee in an unwanted manner during school events, and the second was in regard to what school officials perceived as retaliatory actions Norgaard took against people involved with the first probe. He is alleging defamation because details of the first investigation were made public early in the investigation, and also says there was an infringement of several of his constitutional rights because of the board’s policies to restrict his actions as a school board member during the course of the investigations.
Cherniss and de la Torre, while responding to media inquiries, confirmed the existence of the first investigation in emailed statements, saying it was in connection with sexual harassment claims and identifying Norgaard as its subject. Also at the time, the San Marino Police Department issued a statement that it was investigating possible battery by a school board member, but it did not include a name. (Law enforcement agencies do not customarily identify subjects of investigations until they are prepared to make an arrest.)
The initial harassment investigation concluded that the allegations against Norgaard could be substantiated although his alleged actions did not appear to be sexually motivated, and he was deemed likely to cooperate with instruction on professional boundaries. The criminal investigation was closed after a woman interviewed by detectives said she did not want to pursue charges.
However, the district’s second investigation was launched in April after additional complaints were received. Norgaard filed a legal claim shortly after threatening a lawsuit, at which time the other board members voted to form a committee to respond to any litigation against them and also to freeze him out of the ongoing evaluation of Cherniss, who was named as a defendant in the legal claim.
Norgaard upgraded the claim to a full federal lawsuit in June and also unsuccessfully petitioned for a restraining order to be reinstated in Cherniss’ evaluation. Norgaard did not appeal the denial of that request and later removed a claim for his lawsuit alleging a First Amendment violation for the exclusion.
In an order issued July 20, U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin, who is overseeing the case, told both parties to have a settlement conference before Aug. 31, having determined the case would probably benefit from it.
“This doesn’t look like something he just automatically says for every case,” Norgaard said in a phone interview after the order was issued.
Cherniss, in a text message, directed attention to the Friday meeting agenda when asked for comment regarding the judicial order.

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