North County

SDUHSD Superintendent Will Sue the District for Retaliation

Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward claims the real reason she was placed on leave is not because of her comments on Asian students' success, but because she filed a complaint against the school board's vice-president Michael Allman

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward said she will file a lawsuit against the San Dieguito Union High School District following her administrative leave placement.

The school board placed her on administrative leave for what the board said were racially biased remarks about Asian families. Her attorney, Josh Gruenberg said, “Call it what it is. They're going to fire her. They're not taking her back.”

The board voted 3-1 on Wednesday to place James- Ward on paid administrative leave, with Katrina Young voting no. On Friday, the school board moved forward and voted unanimously to place Tina Douglas, Associate Superintendent of Business Services, as the interim superintendent.

James-Ward claims the real reason she was placed on leave is because she is being retaliated against for filing a complaint on March 10 against board vice president Michael Allman.

The superintendent would not say what was in the complaint, as it is under investigation, but said she is not losing her job because of her comments.

During a diversity equity and inclusion training session, James-Ward responded to a question asking why Asian students "do so well in school." Her response included comments that members of the Asian-American community described as stereotypes.

“Here in San Dieguito, we have an influx of Asians from China and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy," James-Ward said during the meeting. "You cannot buy a house for two million dollars unless you have money."

Tina Douglas, the current Associate Superintendent of Business Services, was named interim superintendent on Friday. NBC 7's Rory Devine reports.

Additionally, the superintendent agreed with another board member that Asian students also have family support – unlike, according to her, Latinx students whose parents must work sunrise to sunset.

“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," James-Ward said at the meeting. "Parents are working two jobs, they’re working sunup to sundown."

Shortly after the backlash, the superintendent held a community meeting and issued two apologies.

“Nothing I said should have me here today," she said. “I apologized to the community because if I caused harm, I need to apologize and I apologized. I did not mean to take away the hard work kids do.”  

The superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District was accused of making comments that were insensitive to Asian-American students.

Despite the apologies, some in the Chinese community called for her resignation.  James-Ward said most of the calls for her resignation were from the California for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), not parents in the district.

Many, she claims, were called to the meeting to protest after being given "trumped-up information" about her remarks by those who have a political agenda against diversity, equity, and inclusion and ethnic studies. 

“They put a complete hit out on me to make this into something it’s not," she said. "They created this insanity to rile up the community about something that is a contributing factor.”

She added she has a lot of support from Chinese parents and students who, she says, are afraid to speak out because they are being threatened.

“This is a retaliation case," her attorney said. "No one gets fired for what she said."

Gruenberg added what his client said "was true," noting there is much information written about the various factors, including socioeconomic factors, that contribute to student success. 

“For them to pick apart and destroy her for what she said was wrong.“ said Gruenberg. "But let’s be clear, that wasn’t why she was fired. She was fired because she lodged a complaint against Allman, and we’re going to prove that.”

James-Ward said she is "going to do the right thing."

"That complaint needed to be filed," she said. "I filed it and I’m going to stand by it, period. You fire me, you fire me.”

The San Dieguito Union High School District superintendent apologized to the SDUHSD community, particularly the district's Asian-American community, for hurtful comments she made during a meeting. NBC 7's Rory Devine reports.

She clarified that she is not angry, but is ”sticking up for myself, and there’s a difference.”

When asked if she was bullied, James-Ward said she was not going to answer that question. Then added, “I will say Michael Allman is a bully.”

Reached by phone on Saturday, Allman said he had not heard about the intention to sue the district and said he has no comment at this time. He acknowledged the investigation into James-Ward’s complaint, but said the board voted unanimously to hire an interim superintendent and any suggestion that he bullies or threatens other board members to follow his lead is an insult to his fellow board members.

He also added that he "never bullied anyone.”

On Wednesday, Allman wrote in a statement to NBC 7:

“On February 18th  I called for an independent investigation due to Doctor Ward’s remarks in a board meeting the night before.  Dr Ward filed a complaint on March 10. The Board later approved hiring an independent investigator who has be working expeditiously .

I would like to comment further, but this issue may be litigated and the district’s attorney has requested that all Trustees refrain from commenting at this time.  I will have a lot more to say when the investigation is complete.”

James-Ward doubled down on her fight against her administrative leave placement.

“I’m not going to take this sitting down," she said. "I’ve been publicly lynched.”

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