San Dieguito superintendent, furloughed for comments on Asian students, claims retaliation

After San Dieguito Union High School Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward was furloughed last week for her controversial comments about Asian students, she and others say she is being unjustly persecuted in retaliation for filing a complaint about abusive behavior by a board member.

Many in the community criticized James-Ward for saying at a recent school board workshop that Asian students do well in school because they come from wealthy families who recently immigrated from China. Several Asian American parents and community members said this was a biased statement because not all Asians are Chinese and not all Asians are wealthy. Many have also emphasized merit rather than socio-economic status as reasons for the success of Asian students.

James-Ward has repeatedly apologized for her comments and promised to work with the community to prevent such incidents of bias 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 deserved a second chance to learn from their 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, they named Tina Douglas, associate superintendent of business services, to serve as acting superintendent.

But James-Ward alleges the controversy over her comments is being used against her in retaliation for filing a lawsuit against Michael Allman, one of the administrators who voted to furlough her. His complaint alleges bullying, harassment and bullying by Allman, his attorney Josh Gruenberg said in an interview.

“It’s all a sham,” 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 lawsuit against Michael Allman, so that’s what this is about.”

Now some members of the community are calling for Allman’s resignation and James-Ward’s reinstatement.

“As someone who was also the victim of Mr. Allman’s bullying and harassment, I believe his behavior is toxic and significantly hurts employee morale,” district parent Robyne Ruterbusch said in a statement. press release Monday evening by members of the community. “I am of the opinion that Trustee Allman directly contributed to a hostile work environment throughout the district.”

Allman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

At a February 17 school board meeting, 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 audit. But he said he was told he couldn’t meet Douglas.

James-Ward told Allman that was not true, but James-Ward said she was concerned that Allman was abusing district personnel.

“The word f was used with me. I’ve seen emails where people were intimidated. And so I just want to make sure that no board member disrespects my staff,” James-Ward said at the Feb. 17 meeting. “I’m not saying they can’t meet Administrator Allman; I’m just saying if he wants to meet them, they should actually both of us there to make sure they’re not bullied, that they’re not being disrespected.

She added: “I know what I was called. I know what was texted to me, and I don’t believe anyone deserves this. I saw what was sent in the emails, and I don’t think anyone deserves this.

The Union-Tribune filed a public record request in early March for a copy of James-Ward’s complaint and related documents, but district staff provided no records to respond to the request. James-Ward declined to discuss details of his complaint with the Union-Tribune, and Allman said he could not comment on ongoing investigations.

Last week, Allman condemned James-Ward’s comments about Asian students at a board meeting.

“His words show an inherent bias that is not befitting a leader of an educational institution such as ours,” Allman said. “I condemn his words in the strongest language possible and I don’t believe that is what our district stands for…We are not going to tolerate biased actions or words without consequences.”

Two other directors also voted to furlough James-Ward: board chair Maureen “Mo” Muir and Julie Bronstein.

James-Ward is the district’s first black superintendent and was hired last fall to praise from several board members, including Allman.

She was previously CEO of E3 Civic High, a charter school focused on project-based learning and college preparation for underserved students, and before that she was a tenured professor at San Francisco State University. Diego for 14 years, where she taught at the master’s level. and doctoral level courses. She has also served as a teacher, dean of students and principal. At San Diego State, she helped create the online Master of Arts program in instructional leadership and led the university’s Chinese-American Leadership Symposium.

In the six months James-Ward worked in San Dieguito, supporters say she embraced diversity, equity and inclusion. Kristin Fay, youth co-lead of Encinitas4Equality, a community group that advocates for racial justice, said at the April 22 board meeting that diversity topics and concerns “have never been given a voice.” positive response only once Dr. Ward has been hired”.

James-Ward met with members of the Asian American community at a “restorative meeting” three days after making his comments about Asian students “to make amends for 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 April 15 email to families in San Dieguito. . I’m sorry; I fully acknowledge this bias and am committed to uniting with my community to overcome this bias, learn from neighbors and peers, and prevent 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 generally plays a role in student success — well-off families are able to provide time and resources for their children that other families cannot. At the same time, said Gruenberg, James-Ward did not minimize the role of “hard work, courage and determination” in student success.

“The truth is, there’s nothing offensive or inappropriate about what she said,” Gruenberg said. “And what’s even more bad and pathetic is that this discussion took place at a diversity and inclusion meeting where there’s supposed to be a free flowing exchange of ideas with no comments being made. used for retaliatory purposes.”

Katrina Young, who was the only trustee to vote against James-Ward’s furlough, said at the April 20 board meeting that while James-Ward’s comments “caused a lot of harm to our district “, everyone has inherent biases and has made stereotypes or assumptions. on others ⁠—which is why the district is conducting diversity, equity and inclusion training, she said.

“In this district, we don’t have a zero-tolerance policy. Rather, we hope to offer restoration support for future better choices and actions,” Young said.

She later added, “Aren’t we adding to everyone’s emotional weight if we don’t give everyone enough space to own up to our mistakes and fix them?”

After Young finished his comments, several people booed and shouted, prompting Muir to call for respect from the public.

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