The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School board of education has met twice in closed session to discuss Principal Mark Swanitz’s arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.
But the board has taken no action because there are procedures that have to be followed and Swanitz must be allowed his due process, Superintendent Scott Cory said.
The closed sessions were an opportunity for Swanitz to express himself to the board regarding the incident, not to consider terminating his employment as called for by some community members, he said.
“It does not work that way,” Cory said Wednesday following the board’s regular meeting Tuesday. “There are specific time lines, per statute. He is under contract. … He is in the arrest phase. He has not gone to court.
“He is alleged to have been driving under the influence — he blew a 0.12 — and that will be decided in court,” Cory continued. “But obviously he made the choice to drink and drive.”
Cory said district officials were prepared for members of the public at Tuesday's board meeting to call for Swanitz to resign or be terminated, which is why both he and SYVUHS District President Jan Clevenger read prepared statements at the start of the meeting.
However, none of the nine people who spoke about the incident called for Swanitz to resign or be terminated.
“None of them defended what he did at all,” Cory noted. “They respected him for carrying on in the face of all that’s going on. Here’s a school principal with a stellar track record for the students, the school and the community who made an egregious error.
“They asked that he be judged by his character and all the things he’s done for Santa Ynez and the high school.”
In his statement, Cory thanked the public for “the significant input” he had received regarding Swanitz’s arrest.
“I have an even deeper appreciation for how much our Valley cares about the education of our students,” he said.
“Mr. Swanitz made a very negatively impactful decision to drink and drive,” he continued. “It is an indefensible and inexcusable decision. Educational leaders in particular should be held to a very high standard and model good behavior at all times, whether on or off the job."
Clevenger recognized the “significant interest, and rightfully so” in Swanitz’s arrest.
“There are people in the audience this evening that will offer their support of him as an individual who made a mistake, along with those that are calling for his immediate termination,” Clevenger said.
“Please understand that the board knows Mr. Swanitz’s actions are in no way acceptable and this incident sends exactly the opposite message we want to convey as a school district regarding drinking and driving.
“In addition to hearing from the public during the public comment agenda item, the board will also have an opportunity to hear from Mr. Swanitz this evening as part of our formal review of the incident.
“We must make the best school leadership decision for our students and also ensure that his due process rights are maintained,” Clevenger added.