Photo by Dylan Lanier
Click here to read about Wednesday’s Board meeting, where the Board announced Superintendent Williams’ resignation.
To watch the meeting, click here.
Following rumors that the new Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) Board of Trustees plans to fire Superintendent Dr. Darnise Williams, members of the community expressed outrage at a special meeting, hurling accusations of secrecy, racism, and breaking the law.
Rumors circulated after President Carrie DuBois called a special meeting on Friday, December 9th, in order to swear in newly-elected trustees Amy Koo and Sathvik Nori. According to the Board’s agenda, they were sworn in ahead of schedule so they could participate in the private meeting that immediately followed.
At the meeting, according to Nori, the Board voted 4-1 to hire attorney Eugene Whitlock as their legal representative. If the Board does plan to break its contract with Dr. Williams, they may need legal representation.
The Board quickly scheduled a public meeting for Monday, December 12th, during which they heard public comment on the issue for an hour. Throughout the meeting, faculty and community members, both in-person and over Zoom, voiced discontent with the new Board and their suspected actions. Afterwards, they held a closed-session meeting to discuss the comments and California Government Code Section 5497, which outlines proper procedures for evaluating, disciplining, and dismissing employees, according to the Board agenda.
Former SUHSD trustees Chris Thomsen and Alan Sarver, who both retired last Wednesday, strongly criticized the Board’s secrecy and what appeared, to them, as plans to fire Superintendent Williams.
Thomsen said, “At this point, I can only reasonably conclude, as so many others have concluded, that it was the aim of the President and the Vice President to remove the District Superintendent.”
Sarver said, “President DuBois, I can understand your eagerness to demonstrate that you are now free to act unfettered by the perspectives represented by the two trustees who recently left the Board, and a frantic need to manufacture meaningful change before the end of your year as President.”
Sarver continued, “It is deeply disturbing that you have chosen to do this to the detriment of Dr. Williams, and to the reputation of this school district. Our students, staff, and community will have lost a great deal of trust in the Board.”
President of the Sequoia District Teachers Association (SDTA) Edith Salvatore said, “This Board has shown us how little they value trust. This Board has chosen secrecy over inclusion. This Board has chosen urgency over due process. This Board is showing us who they are. They will lead without input, without transparency, and without light.”
Confusion and frustration with the Board’s decision to withhold so much information about the situation was a common thread among the speakers. Abbie Korman, an M-A English teacher, questioned the Board’s motives: “How is this what’s best for our community? How will a search for a superintendent mid-year help anyone? How will you address the harm you have already caused in your first four days of public service in our community?”
Members of the public frequently supported the superintendent. Antonio Lopez, East Palo Alto’s City Counselor said, “Williams was hired in a fair, robust manner. Why the haste in the superintendent’s evaluation if her contract was extended months ago?”
Korman added, “This feels as though the new Board has decided without taking input from the community to reverse the direction of the previous Board. The previous Board congratulated and gave positive reviews multiple times after evaluation of our superintendent and even extended her contract through 2025 with zero negative public comment ever.”
Thomsen questioned the legality of the Board’s recent decision. He said, “This situation has been handled in a reckless fashion, damaging to the district, and possibly illegal. California code requires a legislative body to report out votes held in private sessions. You didn’t report the vote as required from the closed Board meeting.”
John De Faris said, “This is unacceptable behavior. The very least we are owed is transparency. The procedures are not suggestions. They are firm expectations, and they also have legal implications in some cases.”
M-A government and economics teacher Ellen Jacobson corroborated, “There may be things you cannot share with the community, but you need to be a bit more transparent, having two closed-door sessions back to back.”
While many speakers addressed DuBois, others directed blame at Koo and Nori.
Maurice Goodman said, “There are only two qualified people on this Board, Richard Ginn and Shawneece Stevenson. You [Nori and Koo] were elected to serve as stewards, not political pawns.”
M-A science teacher Dr. Rachel Richards added, “The school Board is acting without due process, 40% of which is brand new and without experience.”
As transparency was a large focus of the new trustees’ campaigns, community members criticized their actions and the Board’s secrecy.
Korman said, “I was under the impression the new Board members campaigned on transparency and that all Board members valued community input and communication.”
Multiple speakers questioned the Board’s support of racial equality, with some even claiming that the Board’s actions reflect extreme racial prejudice.
Jenny Varghese Bloom stated, “We need to hear from every trustee why they want to end the contract of the first African-American female superintendent. If this Board terminates Dr. Williams’ contract, I will have a very hard time trusting that this Board is inclusive and upholds equity.”
Jedd Bloom said, “The word that kept coming to mind is ‘violence.’ Of course you are racist, but you are also violent. You snuff out Blackness the same way your ancestors did. You uphold white supremacy. It is unhinged, uncalled for, and inappropriate. I am disgusted.”
Lopez asked, “Does the Board want to have the legacy of firing the first African-American female superintendent as the first majority POC Board?”
The M-A Chronicle reached out to Board President DuBois on the rumors of William’s evaluation, but no formal statement has been released yet. According to Nori, this is in part because disclosing certain information about the situation violates personnel privacy restrictions.
This story will be modified as updates develop.
*Education Code: Section 44932 states that the dismissal of a permanent or probationary teacher may only occur for one or more specific cause.