RSF School board member issues cease and desist letters after allegations made at board meeting

The RSF School board met on Sept. 15
(Karen Billing)

At least three Rancho Santa Fe School District parents said they received cease and desist orders from board Vice President Rosemarie Rohatgi after voicing concerns about her behavior and issues at R. Roger Rowe School.

At the Sept. 15 board meeting, board President John Tree started off by reading a statement from the district’s attorney Kendall Swanson to make it known that the cease and desist letters were not issued by or on behalf of the district: “They do not impact the district’s procedures for public comment and the district does not enforce cease and desist letters issued by third parties.”

The letters were sent out following an August board meeting when Rohatgi was accused of “abuse of power” including allegations of grade changing and special tutoring to get a student into the advanced math class who had not qualified. At least one parent asked her to resign.

Rohatgi denied all of the claims made against her.

“Everything I have done and did as a parent has been above board. My kids and I have never been granted any special favors and the district and administration have all assured me that everything that I have done has been appropriate,” Rohatgi said. “The accusations that I have abused power or influence are simply not true and they need to stop. It’s extremely hurtful and it’s distressing to have people spreading false rumors about me, especially when I’m fighting advanced cancer.”

Rohatgi said her decision to send out cease and desist letters was to protect her rights because she believes she is being defamed and that her children are being attacked: “It’s inappropriate, it’s inaccurate and it’s wrong.”

Kali Kim, a former board member, said she was one of the parents who received a cease and desist letter. During public comment, she said she has not had any personal interactions with Rohatgi and did not have an opinion of her actions outside of the public arena. She said despite the letter, she would not stop speaking up.

“I will continue to voice my concerns with the district’s math program and protection of at-risk students in the public forum at school board meetings,” Kim said. “I can only view her correspondence with me as an attempt to intimidate me into silence on these issues.”

Several parents spoke on Rohatgi’s behalf, one even left a bouquet of roses for her on the board table. The parents dismissed the allegations as a violation of a child’s privacy and “propaganda”.

At the meeting, the board had a refresher on its roles and responsibilities and took a new ethics pledge brought forward by Tree, one he hoped would give the community a sense of the board’s “honor and integrity.”

Among the promises in the pledge: Never seek personal gain or an unfair advantage for myself or family members, respect the confidentiality of privileged information and make well-informed decisions for the benefit of all students. The pledge reiterated that individual board members have no power over the district— only the board acting as a whole may act on behalf of the board and that no one in the district works for a board member as an individual.

Tree said the board is not an investigative body or police agency and there aren’t any consequences that they can administer if a member breaks the pledge. The only tool the community has is to recall a board member. The board’s tool is a censure, a formal statement of disapproval that must be approved by a majority.

Tree reminded the community that three seats will be up for election next year—his own, along with Rohatgi and Annette Ross. Tree has stated he will not seek a second term.