Court filing seeks Bethel school board members’ removal over transgender issues

Petitions claim misuse of authority, meeting violations; case follows removal effort in neighboring Tipp City schools

BETHEL TWP., Miami County — Petitions seeking the legal removal of three Bethel Local School District Board of Education members were filed in Miami County Common Pleas Court, accusing them of improper exercise of authority and gross neglect of duty.

The petitions were accompanied by pages that those filing the action state were signed by district residents seeking removal of Lydda Mansfield, Lori Sebastian and Danny Elam Jr.

The petitions allege that the three board members have “willfully and flagrantly exercised authority or power not authorized by law, refused or willfully neglected to enforce the law and to perform official duties imposed upon them by law, exceeded the scope of their responsibility and/or authority and are guilty of gross neglect of duty, malfeasance and/or authority and are guilty of gross neglect of duty, misfeasance and/or nonfeasance in office.”

Among claims in the legal filing is one about a closed executive session Dec. 7.

“Despite adjourning into executive session to purportedly discuss matters of pending or threatened court action without counsel, the board entered into executive session and, in that executive session, made the decision to allow trans identifying students to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity without notice or discussion to remainder of the board, in violation of Ohio’s Open Meeting laws,” the petitions say.

The petitioners cite the alleged improper executive session procedures in asking the court to immediately remove the three board members from office while the case is pending.

The case also makes claims of improper use of authority surrounding a community forum on trans-identifying students’ use of restroom facilities. The petitioners say it was a board decision Feb. 14 to hold the forum, but that Mansfield unilaterally decided to not to proceed.

Among other claims are that Mansfield and Sebastian attempted to extend their authority beyond that outlined in policy for the board; that Elam allegedly used his board position to influence the hiring of his son by the district and voted on the hiring of a daughter-in-law instead of recusing himself from the vote.

The three board members were asked for comment Thursday by the Dayton Daily News but had not responded Friday afternoon.

There was a separate filing seeking the removal of the three board members earlier this year, but it was dismissed with the stipulation that a new action could be filed.

The filing followed several months of district controversy over transgender students and restroom accessibility, including heated public board meetings. The district’s superintendent, Justin Firks, resigned in late May, effective July 31, citing the turmoil in the district and writing that “sacrificing health, family, dignity and your professional reputation should not be a part of the job” of superintendent.

The new removal petition has been assigned to Judge Jeannine Pratt.

The Bethel case follows on the heels of a complaint in the neighboring Tipp City school district, seeking removal of two Board of Education members. That case, targeting Theresa Dunaway and Anne Zakkour, is still pending in Common Pleas Court.

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