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San Dieguito superintendent placed on administrative leave

The backlash from San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward’s comments linking Asian students’ academic success to wealth reached the board room on April 20, with over three hours of public comment and a loud outpouring of calls for her resignation or firing.

Dr. Cheryl James Ward
Dr. Cheryl James Ward
(Courtesy)

In response, the board voted 3-1 to put James-Ward on administrative leave.

The action taken in closed session that ended after midnight, was supported by SDUHSD President Mo Muir, Vice President Michael Allman and Clerk Julie Bronstein; Trustee Katrina Young voted no.

While over the past two years public comment has been limited to 10 speakers, Muir wanted to let everyone have a chance to speak. There were two overflow rooms to accommodate the large number of people in attendance.

Parents said they were hurt and angry by James-Ward’s words, that they diminished the achievements and hard work of Asian American students, reinforced stereotypes and were divisive and shockingly uninformed. They shared emotional and personal stories about their lived experiences with discrimination, hate and harmful stereotypes. Many criticized the way James-Ward handled the aftermath of her comments and while some accepted her apologies, they no longer trusted her to lead the district.

“I listened to every one of you…your words and your stories, they touched my heart,” Muir said. “I hope as a board we move forward and address this in a positive and meaningful way.”

In their comments, Bronstein and Allman both said they strongly condemned James-Ward’s words.

“Her words show a built-in bias that is unbecoming a leader of an educational institution like ours,” Allman said. “I condemn her words in the strongest possible language and I do not believe this is what our district stands for.”

At the start of the meeting, James-Ward again apologized for her words, at times in tears. She had held a restorative town hall last week and sent a formal apology out to all district families.

“My comments were not meant to harm but came from a place of true affinity with the Asian community and friendships with some of our immigrant neighbors,” James-Ward said. “I understand why my comments caused so much pain.”

James-Ward was the solo finalist for the superintendent position last year, taking over the district in November.

During a closed session special meeting on April 21, the board unanimously voted to appoint Tina Douglas as interim superintendent. Douglas has been the district’s associate superintendent of business services since 2017 and has over 30 years of experience in the education field.

“Tina Douglas has more passion for this district than anyone I’ve ever met and she regards all of your children like her children,” Muir said. “She has proven herself to be someone who loves everyone in the district and wants to make sure everyone succeeds.

Updates

5:01 p.m. April 22, 2022: Story updated to add the appointment of Associate Superintendent Tina Douglas as interim superintendent


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