More than 50 San Dieguito Union High School District parents showed up to Wednesday evening's board meeting to let the district's superintendent know how they felt about comments she said were harmful to the Asian community.
After parents had their turn to speak, the meeting continued nearly past midnight so board members could discuss the rest of their agenda.
Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Ward's comments came during a training session on diversity, equity and inclusion last Monday, when one board member asked, “Do we know why Asian students do so well in school?” The board was discussing data on the achievement gap. According to the data, several Asian students in the district received fewer Ds and Fs than other racial groups.
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Dr. Ward said she could tell the board part of the reason.
“Here in San Dieguito, we have an influx of Asians from China and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy. You cannot buy a house for two million dollars unless you have money,” said Ward. When a board member said she believed the success was attributable to the support this group receives from extended families living together, Ward agreed.
“The whole family comes, parents, grandparents, they are there to support kids at home, whereas in some of our Latinx communities, they don’t have that type of money. Parents are working two jobs, they’re working sunup to sundown,” said Ward.
“These remarks are clearly racist stereotyping. As you know not every Asian family is Chinese, not every Asian family is privileged, and not every Hispanic family is under privileged,” said Dr. Wenyuan Wu, the Executive Director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), which she describes as a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the causes of equal rights and merit.
Parents at Wednesday's meeting echoed Wu's sentiment and called for Ward's resignation.
"I think we need to take action," parent Lucy Zhao said.
Ward attended the meeting but did not address parents. Board members apologized to the community and condemned her comments.
"She was wrong in what she said ... I hope we can move forward with a positive solution focused on the success of all students," board member Julie Bronstein said.
The district ended Wednesday's meeting with a closed session and said it would notify the school community if further action is taken.
Wu said we must recognize there are factors that are beyond race that account for the achievement gap study and why some student groups outperform others, and model best practices.
“Instead of throwing a stereotype, they’re just Asian, they’re just rich, or … they all just want to learn, they’re just book nerds, I think that is over generalizing, that is oversimplifying a phenomenon that is consequential, and in turn that also dismisses or conceals opportunities to learn and grow as a community,” said Wu.
Ward has apologized twice “for the harm I caused the community.” She held a community meeting and sent e-mails to the community writing in part, “I spoke insensitively with a bias I didn’t know was there.” She outlined possible actions the district could take to heal the community.
“We welcome her willingness to engage the public, to be engaged, but I don’t think she is going in the right direction," said Wu.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, she said Ward is missing the point.
“Do we need more DI [diversity and inclusion training], or do we need to rethink how we do the DI and how we move forward? So, I think that’s the major issue with her," said Wu.