Manzone updates reasons for early resignation

For Holly Manzone, the decision to resign from the school board was about making a statement and it reflected frustration over her inability to get straight answers to nagging questions.

She said she met a brick wall trying to resolve one specific issue.

“I have tried for two-and-a-half years to correct this in the system. I feel [the board and the administration] forced me to do it this way,” she said.

Manzone said she specifically wants to know the following: What happened between the time the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District superintendent wrote to an out of district family saying their children could not attend district schools, to a letter a month later when he wrote to them saying the kids could go to school if they slept at another property the family owned within the district?

“How did we get from ‘you’re not residents’ to accepting residency?” she said rhetorically. “I was elected to represent the residents of the district. I couldn’t do that without information.”

She said she never received an answer, even after conducting her own surveillance of the family in question.

According to state law, children are considered to be residents of the school district in which they live with a parent or guardian, but Manzone said this is not the case in this matter.

She laid out a timeline of events, in papers presented to school board members during the special meeting held to vote on her resignation. She said she first became aware of the situation in the spring of 2011 and did speak with Superintendent John Sanville about the matter.

According to Manzone, the district hired a firm in September 2011 to investigate and it was determined a month later that the family lived outside the district.

She continued her timeline saying that the district’s solicitor, in early 2012, asked for an update. The firm conducted 14 more surveillances and came up with the same conclusion — that the family lived elsewhere.

In May of 2012, she said, Sanville wrote to the family informing them that they were not district residents, could not send the children to district schools and would have to pay tuition for the time the kids had attended U-CF schools.

During a June 2012 meeting, the family said a previous superintendent had told them that they only had to show tax records as proof of residency. Later that month, according to Manzone, Sanville sent another letter to the family affirming their non-resident status, but explained how to contest that ruling in a formal hearing.

In mid July, she continued, the family asked to know specific requirements for residency and that, later in the month, Sanville again wrote to the family and again asserted that they lived outside the district.

In August 2012, the family met with Sanville and two staff members and said they agreed to “follow the rules.” Later that month the family enrolled the children in the district.

According to Manzone’s documentation, Sanville sent another letter to memorialize the discussion of that August meeting: “the district’s position is that, if the children are sleeping at the [in-district property] the majority of the time — at least four days per week — then they will be considered residents of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District,” and that the matter of tuition would be put aside.

Also in August, Manzone said, Sanville sent out a “Fabulous Friday Memo” that said the matter was closed.

Manzone said that was the last she heard of the matter, but became suspicious when she would drive by the in-district property and saw no evidence of it being used as a residence.

She then decided to conduct her own surveillance in August of 2013. She said that on Aug. 26, she watched the out of district residence and “followed the family driving to UCFSD schools and dropping off children.”

Manzone said she tried to do the same thing the following day, but this time the she was seen and the father tailgated her. She drove to a nearby state police barracks and the father approached her. She said she questioned his residency in the Unionville district and that he replied, ‘You don’t know my situation — I have a deal with John Sanville.”

On Sept. 2, Sanville e-mailed board members saying there was no deal and asked for an executive session that would address, at least in part, Manzone’s actions, she said.

According to state code 24 P.S. §13-1301, 13-1302, “Every school age child is entitled to attend the public schools of the child’s district of residence, which is the school district where the child’s parent(s) or legal guardian resides…When parents reside in different school districts due to separation, divorce, or other reason, the child may attend school in the district of the parent with whom the child lives for a majority of the time…”

Manzone continues to question the family’s residency, wants to know what transpired that led to the acceptance letter and that she has been held in disregard by board members since her contact with the father.

She said she’s repeatedly asked for three surveillance reports, but that she has been stonewalled and excluded from decisions.

An executive session was held to discuss her “inappropriate actions,” but that the board took no action against her, she said, and that requests to see surveillance reports were denied. She added that some board members did not want her — or other board members — to see the documents she was requesting.

Accordingly, her papers said, she was told that “the consensus, while not unanimous,” of the board was that she should not be allowed to see the documents.

Manzone resigned from the board on Oct. 21, one month before the end of her four-year term. She said the residency issue along with other improprieties such as misuse of executive session led to her leaving. Her formal letter of resignation can be found at the bottom of a story found here.

To read the board's reaction to Manzone's resignation, go here.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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