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Friday, November 16 , 2018, 3:42 pm | Fair 69º


Speakers Support Santa Ynez Valley High School Principal After DUI Arrest

Board members meet in closed session, issue statement about Mark Swanitz

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Principal Mark Swanitz listens Tuesday night as the board of education hears public comments about his recent arrest on misdemeanor drunken-driving charges. Several people spoke in support of Swanitz, and the board took no action after two closed sessions. Click to view larger
Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Principal Mark Swanitz listens Tuesday night as the board of education hears public comments about his recent arrest on misdemeanor drunken-driving charges. Several people spoke in support of Swanitz, and the board took no action after two closed sessions. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Nine people spoke out on behalf of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Principal Mark Swanitz Tuesday night in reaction to his arrest on drunken-driving charges, urging the board of education to view it as a rare indiscretion.

Swanitz, 50, sat silently as Superintendent Scott Cory and board President Jan Clevenger read statements about the Oct. 21 arrest. 

“There are people in the audience 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,” she added.

Swanitz was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving after an accident that occurred when another driver made a left turn onto Highway 246 near Flag is Up Farms into the path of the principal’s private vehicle.

The California Highway Patrol’s investigation of the non-injury accident revealed Swanitz had a blood alcohol content of .12 percent, well above the .08 legal limit at which a driver is presumed drunk.

Swanitz was arrested and ordered to appear  on Nov. 20 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, where he faces misdemeanor charges.

Cory’s statement noted that he had received significant input from the public about the arrest, proving how much the valley cares about students’ education.

The decision to drive while under the influence of alcohol is indefensible and inexcusable, Cory added. 

“Education leaders in particular should be held to a very high standard and model good behavior at all times whether on or off the job,” Cory said.

Closed sessions meetings — minus board member Jerry Swanitz, the principal’s father — on the topic occurred before and after the board of education’s meeting.

The four members of the school board heard from the principal as part of the formal review of the incident. 

District leaders must make the best decision for the school along with ensuring Swanitz’s due-process rights are not violated, Clevenger added. 

Swanitz has been principal since 2010 at the campus he once attended as a student. He previously served as principal at Dos Pueblos High School.

During the public comment period, friends and parents of high-schoolers urged the board to view the arrest as a legal matter to be handled by the justice system, not something affiliated with his job or the school. 

They also noted his involvement in the community through the years along with his leadership at the high school.

“I’ve always known Mark to be a person of high morale and ethical character, and I’ve never seen, except for during this occasion we’re talking about, him stray from that high standard he set for himself,” said Erik Raney. 

Swanitz is a visionary leader and pragmatic problem-solver, Raney said.

“I’m  certainly not here to condone his alleged errant behavior, but I am here to offer my support and to urge this board to separate that incident from the good work that he does here at the school and our community on a daily basis,” Raney added. 

Sara Lloyd Truax suggested the board should view the incident from the students’ perspective, and said people’s consequences for their actions should be mitigated by their reputations.

The arrest, and Swanitz’s actions since then, can serve as lesson for students, she said.

“They need to see that however difficult and embarrassing as it is when you’ve taken a huge stumble, you have to just keep going,” she said.

John Porter added succumbing to a vocal minority calling for the board to terminate Swantiz would be “a grievous error.”

Another speaker, Lisa Church, expressed her support for the principal — her brother — noting she also is the parent of a high-schooler who has thrived academically and socially. 

“I don’t excuse the choices he made that led to his arrest, but I do understand that we’re all human and we all make mistakes,” she said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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