Many students, teachers, and alumni came out to the Alhambra Unified School District board meeting on Aug. 25 as they voiced their concerns over various issues, including media adviser Jennifer Kim being placed on administrative leave and the lack of disciplinary action for former San Gabriel High School principal Jim Schofield for his censorship of the school newspaper.
One of the highlights from this meeting was a speech delivered by Simon Yung, former copy editor of San Gabriel High School’s newspaper The Matador, who wore his “armor of truth” as he called out the district for their actions this summer, particularly calling out their actions against The Matador.
“Let’s talk about Jennifer Kim. This isn’t the first time a beloved teacher has been removed from the classroom without explanation, and with what’s happened this summer, it doesn’t take Sherlock and Watson to find these circumstances suspicious,” Yung said.
Yung further remarked that he was disappointed at the district’s lack of transparency and action in the face of everything that has happened this summer.
“I thought that the district would take time over this summer to clear the air of intimidation, fear, and retaliation that seems to have permeated this community,” Yung said. “Unfortunately, as the school year begins, this fog of fear only seems to have thickened. However, I fear not because like others before me, I wear the armor of truth on my chest and… I will gladly embrace any hostile fire coming my way because the truth will always prevail.”
Current staff members of The Matador also addressed the school board.
Staff writers Kelly Ho and Sydney Trieu asked that another investigation of the district’s First Amendment violations be conducted with an objective investigator rather than the district’s attorney. The students and teachers involved in these incidents were not interviewed for this investigation, causing some to suspect bias. The initial investigation claimed that Schofield’s censorship of The Matador was unintentional and that the district never asked Roz Collier to inform Nguyen that students may be arrested if they proceeded with their protest.
Current Editors-in-Chief Cassandra Chen and Erin Truong expressed their concerns over Kim’s absence in the newspaper class and administration’s “cleaning” of the publications classroom H2.
The publications classes were not told by administrators that Kim was on administrative leave when classes began on Aug. 14. Instead, they found out through alumni and online articles on Kim as Kim cannot speak with current students or step foot onto campus without an escort.
“Ms. Kim’s absence creates a void in the hierarchy,” Truong said. “The lack of an experienced adviser is less than ideal.”
Publications students had not been allowed in H2 during the first six days of class, and when they returned to the classroom on Aug. 24, they found Kim’s desk cleaned out and many items in the room missing, including a microwave, a radio, a Hannah Montana cardboard cutout, and Chen’s mug. Chen questioned “where in the state Education Code does it say it’s okay to throw away student belongings.”
“What used to be a sea of papers that our adviser called her desk was barren,” Chen said. “Cabinets and drawers full of examples of great journalism were emptied. Everything that made H2 feel like a second home to our journalists was nowhere to be found.”
Several alumni also communicated their opinions to the school board, including Kristy Duong, Steven Ho (whose spech was read by Cassandra Chen), Eric Hong, Victoria Ngo (whose speech was read by current student Jazmin Campos), and Oscar Molina.
“We need to put the students back as the number one priority,” Oscar Molina, 2013-14 Editor-in-Chief of The Matador and incoming sophomore at Stanford University, said.
Hong sought justification for the district’s actions this summer as they have lost the community’s trust.
Duong requested that the district return Kim to the classroom, be transparent to the community, perhaps through a public Q&A session, stop the retaliation and intimidation, address the public’s concerns regarding Schofield, and publicly apologize to former Speech & Debate coach Andrew Nguyen for the district’s harassment.
Speech and Debate members, Eric Thai and Kenny Yeung, also addressed the board, asking for continued support of the Speech & Debate program as they are “trying to rebuild and climb back to where our team once was,” according to Yeung. They commented on some of the resources they needed including laptops and practice space.
Former San Gabriel math teacher Shi Ying Chen also delivered a speech that evening, revealing that “there are teachers who are suffering” but “cannot speak up because they are afraid of being retaliated [against].” She also recounted some of her experiences at San Gabriel and how the administration’s treatment of her forced her to retire.
“I was pressed to not to teach beyond the standard…And we [were] supposed to give easy tests,” Chen said. “My health was almost ruined my last year of school. I decided to retire after I knew my honors classes [were] taken away.”
After the public comments session was closed, Board Vice President Pat Rodriguez-Mackintosh stated that Nguyen and Kim were both given reasons for their dismissal and administrative leave, respectively, and could disclose the reasons to their students if they wished. However, audience members disagreed with these sentiments.
“During the first meeting, Ms. Mackintosh, you insisted that Mr. Nguyen was given a reason for his dismissal,” Hong said. “When we tried to correct you, you interrupted and continued to insist that he was indeed given a reason. At a later meeting, after some confusion, the board concluded that even if Mr. Andrew Nguyen were to walk up here himself and ask, you would not disclose the reason. Which is very strange, considering, as you insist, that he was already given a reason.”
Also, according to Pasadena Star-News, “During the meeting…Rodriguez-Mackintosh said Kim could disclose the reason she was placed on leave to her students. But Kim said she was told differently by union representative Terry Skotnes.”
The next school board meeting is on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m.