know about San Dieguito superintendent suspended for comments about Asian students, alleges retaliation
After San Dieguito Union High School Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward was suspended last week for her controversial comments about Asian students, she and others say she is being unfairly targeted in retaliation for filing a complaint about the behavior abusive of a board member.
Many community members have criticized James-Ward for saying during a recent school board workshop that Asian students do well in school because they come from wealthy families who recently emigrated from China. Several Asian-American parents and community members said that’s a biased statement because not all Asians are Chinese and not all Asians are rich. Many also emphasized merit over socioeconomic status as reasons for the success of Asian students.
James-Ward has apologized multiple times for his comments and vowed to work with the community to prevent such bias incidents from happening again.
Still, several members of the community have called for James-Ward to resign or be fired. But several others said they accepted James-Ward’s apology and that people deserve a second chance to learn from mistakes.
On April 20, the board voted 3-1 to place James-Ward on paid administrative leave after hearing three hours of public comment. Two days later, Tina Douglas, associate superintendent of business services, was appointed to serve as interim superintendent.
But James-Ward alleges that the controversy over her comments is being used against her in retaliation for filing a complaint about Michael Allman, one of the trustees who voted to put her on leave. His complaint alleges bullying, harassment and harassment by Allman, his attorney Josh Gruenberg said in an interview.
“This is all a farce,” James-Ward said in a recent interview with NBC7. “I know this all has to do with the fact that on March 10 I filed a complaint against Michael Allman, so that’s what it’s all about.”
Now, some members of the community are calling for Allman’s resignation and James-Ward’s reinstatement.
“As someone who has also been a victim of Mr. Allman’s bullying and harassment, I believe his behavior is toxic and significantly damaging employee morale,” district parent Robyne Ruterbusch said in a news release issued. by community members on Monday night. “It is my opinion that Trustee Allman has directly contributed to a hostile work environment throughout the district.”
Allman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
During a school board meeting on Feb. 17, James-Ward alleged that Allman had bullied district staff. The topic came up when Allman said he wanted to ask Douglas several questions about the district’s audit. But he said he was told that he couldn’t meet with Douglas.
James-Ward told Allman that wasn’t true, but James-Ward said he was concerned Allman was abusing district staff.
“The f word was used with me. I have seen emails where people were bullied. So I just want to make sure that no board member disrespects my staff,” James-Ward said during the Feb. 17 meeting. “I’m not saying they can’t meet with Trustee Allman; I’m just saying that if he wants to meet with them, they should actually have two of us there to make sure they don’t feel intimidated or disrespected.”
She added: “I know what I have been called. I know what I’ve been texted and I don’t think anyone deserves it. I’ve seen what’s been emailed and I don’t think anyone deserves it.”
The Union-Tribune filed a public records request in early March for a copy of James-Ward’s complaint and related documents, but district staff did not provide any records to comply with the request. James-Ward has declined to discuss the details of his complaint with the Union-Tribune, and Allman has said he cannot comment on pending investigations.
Last week, Allman condemned James-Ward’s comments about Asian students during a board meeting.
“His words show a built-in bias that is unbecoming of a leader of an educational institution such as ours,” Allman said. “I condemn his words in the strongest possible language and I do not believe this is what our district stands for… We will not tolerate biased actions or words without consequence.”
Two other trustees also voted to put James-Ward on leave: Board President Maureen “Mo” Muir and Julie Bronstein.
James-Ward is the district’s first black superintendent and He was hired last fall he received glowing praise from several board members, including Allman.
She was previously executive director of E3 Civic High, a charter school with a focus on project-based learning and preparing underserved students for college, and prior to that she was a full professor at San Diego State University for 14 years, where taught master’s degrees. and doctoral courses. She has also served as a teacher, dean of students, and principal. At San Diego State, she helped found the online master of arts program in educational leadership and led the university’s Chinese-American Leadership Symposium.
In the six months that James-Ward has worked in San Dieguito, her supporters say she has embraced diversity, equity and inclusion. Kristin Fay, youth co-director of Encinitas4Equality, a community group advocating for racial justice, said during the April 22 board meeting that diversity issues and concerns “only received a positive response once the Dr. Ward.”
James-Ward met with members of the Asian-American community in a “restorative meeting” three days after she made her comments about Asian students “to repair the harm I have done to our community.”
“I understand the magnitude of my comments and how I have angered and disappointed our Asian-American community,” James-Ward wrote in an email to San Dieguito families on April 15. “I spoke callously with a bias I didn’t know existed. . I am so sorry; I fully acknowledge this bias and am committed to joining my community in overcoming this bias, learning from neighbors and peers, and preventing something like this from happening again.”
James-Ward’s attorney, however, said there was nothing wrong with what James-Ward said. He said socioeconomic status often plays a role in student success: Well-off families can provide time and resources for their children that other families can’t. At the same time, Gruenberg said, James-Ward didn’t downplay the role of “hard work, courage and determination” in student success.
“The truth is that there is nothing offensive or inappropriate in what he said,” Gruenberg said. “And what’s even more bad and pathetic is that this discussion was at a diversity and inclusion meeting where there is supposed to be a fluid exchange of ideas without the comments being used for retaliatory purposes.”
Katrina Young, who was the only administrator to vote against putting James-Ward on furlough, said during the April 20 board meeting that while James-Ward’s comments “caused great harm to our district “Everyone has inherent biases and has made stereotypes or assumptions. over others — that’s why the district is training on diversity, equity and inclusion, she said.
“In this district, we do not have a zero tolerance policy. Instead, we hope to offer restoration support for future better options and actions,” Young said.
He later added: “Aren’t we adding to everyone’s emotional weight if we don’t give everyone adequate space to own up to our mistakes and correct them?”
After Young finished his remarks, several people booed and yelled, prompting Muir to ask the audience for respect.