An effort to recall four SMMUSD board members is now underway in Santa Monica as local parents and education stakeholders in the city have submitted signatures to recall board members Laurie Lieberman, Maria Leon-Vasquez, Jon Kean and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

The four filed Notices of Intention argue that the named board members have increased socio-economic inequality, failed to close the achievement gap, neglected to hold incompetent administrators accountable, undermined teachers and hurt the long-term economic viability of the district and City as a whole during their time on the board.

“This recall is all about the Board’s failure to focus on educating and protecting its students. No matter how many times Santa Monica parents and Malibu parents remind them to focus on what’s best for the students, the board continues to ignore us,” Malibu parent Beth Lucas said in a news release this week. “Now, Santa Monica and Malibu parents stand together to say, ‘No more!’”

Most of the named board members acknowledged the recall efforts this week as a campaign that’s being driven by hidden figures who have chosen to pursue their grievances in the hope they will opportunistically obtain support from parents who are frustrated for other reasons.

“The recall is being totally mischaracterized as a parent-driven revolt. The recall has, in fact, been orchestrated by a group of angry, disgruntled people who have personal and political grievances with our school district and the School Board,” Lieberman said Thursday, noting the pandemic has not been an easy time for parents or students, but she does not believe this is why the recall has been initiated.

“If in fact that were the case, they would be seeking to recall all seven board members since we have stood together on all issues regarding reopening of schools and delivery of quality distance instruction,” Lieberman said. “Instead, the aggrieved people who are behind the recall are actually people with other personal axes to grind.”

Kean said “Do not be fooled by this fraudulent recall campaign. The people truly behind the effort have purposely kept their names off of the petition and deliberately put misinformed parents out front as proxies to hide their own nefarious motives,” he said, which aligned with Tahvildaran-Jesswein’s feelings about the efforts.

“This petition against me is categorically false, mean-spirited, and harmful to our exemplary school district. The recall is baseless and does not serve our students or the voters of Santa Monica and Malibu,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said. “Again, the recall drive against my colleagues and me is based on lies and personal innuendo. It is meant to confuse the voters and undermine our democratic process.”

Both Kean and Tahvildaran-Jesswein highlighted how the district has been hard at work ensuring all students in SMMUSD will have access to in-person instruction every day of the week by April 26, unlike other districts in Los Angeles County. The pair also noted neighboring districts are laying off dozens of teachers while their reserves are dwindling, but SMMUSD has found a way to retain its teachers.

“The slanderous statements and accusations included in the petition are 100% false and will be refuted in the near future with simple and straightforward facts,” Kean added, “facts that the petitioners did not even bother to investigate before publicly smearing the reputations of four dedicated public servants.”

Lieberman also believes the four Notices of Intent to Circulate Petition contain malicious lies and represent demonstrable falsehoods and innuendo that may well be defamatory and libelous.

“The people who signed the Notice of Intention have recklessly represented falsehoods as facts,” Lieberman said. “Furthermore, if one reads the recall notices, the notices have nothing to do with the issue that has rightfully been at the forefront of parents’ minds for the past year – the education of their children, including the ability of our schools to deliver quality instruction remotely and the decisions about when and how their children will return to school for in-person instruction. Parents are appropriately concerned about their children’s mental and emotional well-being as well as their ability to learn remotely, but those are not the concerns driving this petition.”

The signatures signed on the notices are now being confirmed by the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters. Once the process is complete, a recall petition can be circulated to Santa Monica and Malibu voters. If enough signatures are gathered, a special election will be held.

Brennon@smdp.com