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Parent's lawsuit over Laurel School's PTO donations is headed to California appeals court

Original post made on Aug 30, 2022

Laurel School staff filed an appeal to the 2021 lawsuit that alleged the principal and parent-teacher organization engaged in financial malfeasance to boost fundraising.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 30, 2022, 4:36 PM

Comments (15)

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 30, 2022 at 8:13 pm

Brian is a registered user.

This is a ridiculous lawsuit and one that sounds like it was filed out of spite. I have worked with many 503 non-profits and many of them offer benefits for donations.
for example the breast cancer 3 day walk, you raise donations and they give you a shirt, support along the route, food, etc. Does that come off of the amount you donated? It never did. Same with a lot of fundraising campaigns. With Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) if you donate the full amount yourself should you deduct the expense of travel, accommodations, food and race entry that that the LLS provides? Not that I have ever heard.

Personally what I think is the worst part of this is that the district is flush with funds (Property tax revenue increases every year, Parcel taxes, requested donations of $2,000 per child, etc..) and parents are asked to donate more money for field trips...

Posted by Jaclyn Foroughi
a resident of Laurel School
on Aug 30, 2022 at 10:09 pm

Jaclyn Foroughi is a registered user.

Full statement (edited for space constraints) below:

We prevailed against the defendants’ SLAPP Motion in which Judge Fineman permitted 99% of the allegations to proceed and the lawsuit on behalf of the PTO to move forward. As Treasurer at Laurel's PTO, I discovered what was, based on my experience, inappropriate accounting and a lack of transparency originating from some members of the PTO leadership, and that I believed was to the detriment of our community. When I raised these inappropriate financial practices and attempted to reform them, I was retaliated against and ostracized and that, in my view, was part of an effort to cover up the wrongdoing.

I thought very highly of my childrens’ teachers at Laurel and I think these educators are some of the most caring, loving people in the world but we can’t support them if the PTO is not running correctly. The case that I brought is not for me personally–it is brought on behalf of the PTO–and it is about transparency and accountability. It’s unfortunate that the defendants would not reach a settlement to conduct independent investigations–that I have repeatedly offered to pay for–and that would ultimately benefit the PTO and provide the parents and teachers with a stronger organization.

[Portion deleted due to conjecture]

Posted by MP Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 30, 2022 at 10:18 pm

MP Mom is a registered user.

We trust that the PTO does the right thing--with our donations and for our kids. Maybe this time they didn't. Or maybe they just made a mistake. Either way, good for this woman for getting to the bottom of it. It's odd the PTO didn't trust someone who teaches finance at Stanford B school. When you see something, say something. That's exactly what happened here.

Posted by Sandra Diaz
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 30, 2022 at 10:28 pm

Sandra Diaz is a registered user.

I wonder if this case is actually tied to Burmeister’s resignation and all the other changes taking place in the district. I wish we knew more about what was going on behind all of those closed door district meetings. They had the new Superintendent lined up even before they asked for the community’s feedback. Was that all for show? I think parents voices should absolutely be heard in the new Superintendent. Especially with all these lawsuits that raise questions and concerns about finances.

Posted by C. Michael
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 30, 2022 at 10:35 pm

C. Michael is a registered user.

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Posted by Katy
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 30, 2022 at 10:44 pm

Katy is a registered user.

I wouldn't be surprised if the District and Foundation were invovled in the funny accounting at the school. Even our well-off District is strapped for cash and always asking us for money because of pension issues. Seems to me the Foundation, the Defendants, and parents are the puppets and Burmeister controls the strings.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 31, 2022 at 7:41 am

Parent is a registered user.

@Brian, District pays for all day field trips but not the annual Outdoor Ed for 5th graders. $500 per 5th grader every year would be a hefty bill. There are scholarships, if needed. Hope that clears it up for you.

Posted by Another Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 31, 2022 at 10:41 am

Another Parent is a registered user.

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or personal attack]

Posted by Frozen
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 31, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Frozen is a registered user.

Thank you, Jaclyn, for bringing this suit.

The district has long had the mindset that "if it benefits the schools/district, it's all good." I understand it, but I don't agree with it, and when I was asked to circumvent the system -- for very slight financial benefit to the school -- I refused to do it.

I have seen other parents ostracized by the district for filing formal complaints. Anyone who thinks that retaliation doesn't occur is not paying attention.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2022 at 5:49 pm

Parent is a registered user.

"This is a ridiculous lawsuit and one that sounds like it was filed out of spite." Brian, I disagree that the lawsuit was filed out of spite. If anyone is the victim of spite, it is Mrs. Foroughi, who I do not know. From all publicly available information I have read, Mrs. Foroughi, who is clearly an expert in her field (she is a credentialed financial advisor) attempted to educate not only the PTO but also the school district that they were running afoul of the law. The PTO, and the district, and the parents who sought "matching" donations from their employers may have hearts of gold, but that alone does not allow them to skirt the legal requirements.

Mrs. Foroughi attempted to tell the parties in power, in essence, "what you are doing is illegal. It is in your best interest to discontinue this practice". In my view, this was a friendly gesture. [Portion removed due to conjecture]. Why Mrs. Foroughi's ethical behavior was not applauded is beyond me.

Personally, I listen to experts. I do not argue with electricians, plumbers, and financial advisors. I know enough to know that they are the expert, I am the amateur.

While it may be difficult to prove Mrs. Foroughi was damaged by the Principal's behavior, the quid pro quo portion of the lawsuit seems to be fairly easy for an accountant to analyze. [Portion removed due to conjecture].

Posted by Parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2022 at 6:04 pm

Parent is a registered user.

"I wonder if this case is actually tied to Burmeister’s resignation and all the other changes taking place in the district."

Sandra, as the lawsuit moves forward some of your questions may be answered.

I'm not an attorney but I believe Mrs. Foroughi's legal representatives will be able to submit interrogatories to a wide variety of folks, and this may uncover other issues yet to be examined.

I think we are all familiar with the saying about "choosing battles". In my opinion the PTO, and Principal, and certain parents should have avoided this battle. Mrs. Foroughi is A.) credentialed B.) accomplished and C.) determined to right a wrong.

When one's opponent has these aforementioned characteristics, the first course of action should be the waiving of a white flag. Sadly, had the PTO and others took Mrs. Foroughi's suggestions to heart, all parties would have benefitted!

At this stage, I see nothing but downside for the PTO, and the Principal, and the District. I assume in the end they will plead ignorance of the law. It's ironic, because Mrs. Foroughi was trying to steer them away from their ignorance. And for that she paid a price.

Posted by Book Lady
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 31, 2022 at 6:39 pm

Book Lady is a registered user.

Thank you Parent and Mrs. Foroghi. My kids are grown and went through the Menlo Park schools and I volunteered and served on the PTO. I can't believe this has gone this far and continues to go on. This seems like a poor use of time and money of the District and PTO to continue to appeal and fight what seems fairly clear cut. I hope for the kids and teachers sake that the PTO ends this.

Posted by Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 31, 2022 at 7:36 pm

Menlo Park is a registered user.

Continuing this lawsuit is punitive and vindictive. The error has been remedied, amounts returned, tax filings amended. Why continue to pursue volunteers and school staff? Please let’s move on!

Posted by MP Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 31, 2022 at 8:20 pm

MP Mom is a registered user.

You are absolutely right @MenloPark continuing this lawsuit is "punitive and vindictive". Why didn't the PTO just settle. Especially after they lost the the case and now need to appeal and Jacylyn offered to pay for a investigation. Why not settle?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2022 at 8:41 pm

Parent is a registered user.

"Continuing this lawsuit is punitive and vindictive".

I disagree, I see this lawsuit as constructive. If Mrs. Foroughi prevails, not only will it forever change how the PTO and District operates (it may have already, but this remains to be determined), it also sets a legal precedent should any other non-profit organization violate the quid pro quo laws.

I have nothing against non-profits, but they do need to play by the rules.

And although it's not a legal issue, perhaps a public apology is due to Mrs. Foroughi. She apparently went to great lengths to avoid having to file a suit.

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