A lawsuit filed last week accuses the Rock Ridge school board of retaliating against an outspoken board member who was banned from all of her committee assignments for 17 months.
Director Pollyann Sorcan has served on the Rock Ridge Public Schools Board (formerly Eveleth and Eveleth-Gilbert) for more than 20 years without any issues, according to the lawsuit.
She has developed a reputation for asking tough questions of speakers, advocating for fiscal discipline, and supporting members of the public who want to speak at board meetings.
“On August 9, 2021, in retaliation for her political advocacy, support of the community, and attempts to be truly informed on important issues directly relevant to the Board’s actions, the Board passed a resolution censuring Ms. Sorcan for a litany of conclusory allegations that failed to specify the date or factual circumstances of the alleged violations of Board rules or other purported standards of conduct,” the lawsuit explains.
As a result, she was removed from all of her committee assignments and prevented from even attending committee meetings for a period of 17 months, the lawsuit says. She was reinstated to three committees in February, fewer assignments than any other member of the board.
The lawsuit was filed on Sorcan’s behalf by the Upper Midwest Law Center, which said the board has still failed to provide any evidence to support the allegations against Sorcan.
The lawsuit, which seeks damages and an injunction, claims Sorcan continues to face “illegal retaliation and punishment.”
“Unfortunately, as has been thoroughly detailed in recent reports by journalist John Ramos of the Duluth Monitor, other Board members frequently interrupt, cut off, make disparaging remarks against, or even silence Ms. Sorcan during official Board meetings,” the lawsuit says.
In one case, the former board chair muted Sorcan’s audio during a remote Zoom meeting when she raised questions about the board’s treatment of public commenters.
“When our client advocated for fiscal discipline, sought to be truly informed as to the matters on which the board votes, and supported the public’s right to be heard under board policy, the board retaliated against her by censuring her and stripping her of committee assignments, in violation of her First Amendment rights,” said James Dickey, senior trial and appellate counsel at the Upper Midwest Law Center. “The board took unreasonable and unconstitutional actions against her. We are committed to rectifying that in a court of law.”
In a statement provided to Alpha News, the district said it has been notified of the lawsuit and has no further comment at this time.