That the plan to bring the Blue Zones wellness initiative to Collier County public schools has proven ideologically divisive is a fact. That school officials violated state law in considering the proposal is a separate matter — one now before the courts following a lawsuit by a local parent.
In a complaint filed this week, Steven Bracci, a parent of two, claims that Superintendent Kamela Patton, alleging that Blue Zones planning meetings dealing with potential school policies should have, but did not, follow the state’s open meetings laws.
Friday, district counsel Jon Fishbane said that “there is no foundation in law for the allegations made.”
“We will proceed to vigorously defend this action on behalf of the Superintendent,” Fishbane said.
As previously reported, Bracci has taken issue with meetings held between local Blue Zones leaders, who have been planning the implementation of the wellness initiative in the area for months. The eight-year project, which is designed to be a public-private partnership, is being underwritten by the NCH Healthcare System and its president, Jim Weiss.
Superintendent Kamela Patton sits on the project’s steering committee in her capacity as superintendent. A smaller group, which includes an Collier public school principal, has been working since the spring on a potential plan for area schools. Bracci says parents and members of the public should have been part of that process.
“There is a set of ‘school-based’ programs and policies to be implemented over time at the various public schools within the Collier County School District,” Bracci writes in the complaint, referring to the “Schools Pledge.” Bracci says that had the school board been asked to participate in the process, the public would have had a chance to participate as well. He called the process, “closed-door politics.”
Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit that defends Florida’s open meeting and open records laws, read Bracci’s complaint and said that at first glance, no laws appear to have been broken.
“In order for the [Blue Zones committee] to be subject to the sunshine law, it must be ‘acting on behalf of’ a governmental entity. It appears as though NCH set up the committee on its own volition and without the involvement of the school board or at the school board’s express or implied direction,” Petersen said.
“The superintendent, as a general rule, is not subject to the sunshine law.”
Sam Terilli, a legal expert on open records and open meetings laws at the University of Miami, also read the complaint and said Bracci’s suit “is a stretch.”
“Private individuals can organize groups or committees to propose new policies. They can also invite some public officials to participate, and they can do all of that without automatically becoming subject to the Sunshine Law,” Terilli said.
“It doesn’t smell like a sunshine violation to me.”
The district has until Sept. 10 to file a formal response to Bracci’s suit.
Original article here.