The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) is set to tackle a full agenda Tuesday night amid an ongoing controversy about the legitimacy of one of its members.
The SBAC agenda includes a range of board policy amendments, including conservation of natural and material resources, a student progression plan, a code of student conduct, a dual enrollment articulation agreement with Santa Fe College, the Westwood Middle School redesign and a handful of charter school contracts.
During a public hearing last week, board members Rob Hyatt and Dr. Gunnar Paulson each expressed their concern with setting policy after the revelation that board member Diyonne McGraw does not live in the district she was voted to represent.
“We have lost the trust of the community,” said Paulson, the longest serving member of the board.
A petition demanding McGraw “step down from her role as School Board Member immediately as required by law in order to maintain the integrity of the elections process and the ethical responsibility of the School Board seat” has earned more than 600 signatures.
At last week’s hearing Dr. Leanetta McNealy, the SBAC chair, tried to tamp down discussion of the controversy and urged members of the public to “save all of those comments” for tonight’s meeting. McNealy made it clear that McGraw would continue to participate and vote.
On Wednesday McGraw’s opponent in the 2020 election, Khanh-Lien Roberts Banko, filed a complaint asking the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Alachua County to rule the SBAC District 2 seat vacant and block McGraw from attending meetings and voting.
Mainstreet Daily News has reached out to the Florida Department of Education for its position on the matter, but the media relations department reported after two days that it has not received an answer to put on record.
Election law expert Michael T. Morley, assistant professor of law at Florida State University College of Law, said the complaint filed with the with the circuit court may be moot.
“In my opinion, this lawsuit appears to be procedurally improper and the court should dismiss it,” Morley wrote in an email. “It’s too late to challenge election officials’ decisions to allow McGraw on the ballot or certify her as the winner of the November election.”
Morley said the deadline to contest an election is 10 days after the results are certified. McGraw was elected last August and took her seat in November.
On Monday, Banko’s lawyer told the court his client was not seeking to remove McGraw, only to have the seat declared vacant, according to WCJB’s report on the complaint’s first hearing.
Morley said he doubts Banko has the standing to win on that claim either. Instead, he said it would likely fall to the governor to issue an executive order declaring a vacancy.
Even if that happens, Morley said Banko is unlikely to benefit: “At this point, a private plaintiff—including a resident of the district at issue, as well as the candidate who had lost to that board member in the previous election—likely could not obtain relief.”
If McGraw resigns or is removed, individuals living in District 2 who are interested in serving on the SBAC would fill out a gubernatorial appointment application on the governor’s website. Those applications would be vetted by Gov. Ron Desantis’ staff, who would then send through top candidates to be interviewed by the governor, who would appoint McGraw’s replacement.