We created this website as a public forum for community members to express their opinions regarding the controversy that has developed over this past summer in the Alhambra Unified School District. We hope that this will help to stimulate discussion about the ongoing actions of the school district, so we invite you to submit your thoughts or to recount any experiences you may have had with the district.
We aim to hold the Alhambra Unified School District accountable for its actions and to ensure that students are receiving a quality education. Our current goals are as follows:
- To return Jennifer Kim to the classroom (Update: Jennifer Kim returned to the classroom on Dec. 14 after being on administrative leave for over 100 days.)
- To ensure transparency from the school district
- To stop retaliation and intimidation in the district
- To establish open communication between the community and the district
The Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) community is largely a minority one, composed of Hispanics and Asians; most students in the district receive reduced price or free lunch and are the first generation in their families to attend college. Schools in AUSD receive Title 1 funding. The high schools in AUSD are Alhambra High School, Century High School, Independence High School, Mark Keppel High School, and San Gabriel High School.
The controversy began on May 22, 2015 when Andrew Nguyen, popular first-year English teacher and award-winning Speech & Debate coach at San Gabriel High School, was informed that his contract would not be renewed but was not given a reason for his termination. In response to this, parents reacted quickly, signing petitions and sending them to administrators to protest this decision. The following Tuesday, many students went to the principal’s office seeking answers, but the administration did not offer any. The secretary instead demanded that all students give their names. The next day, The Matador, San Gabriel High School’s student newspaper, released two articles: a feature on Nguyen and a statement regarding the violation of The Matador’s freedom of speech, revealing that Principal Jim Schofield had ordered them not to write about Nguyen’s dismissal.
At this point, there were two issues: Nguyen’s dismissal and Schofield’s infringement upon The Matador‘s right to free press.
In support of Nguyen, a group of students collaborated to show their appreciation in a video.
Then, a protest, scheduled to occur on May 29, was called off because Nguyen was notified by Roz Collier from the Alhambra Teacher’s Association (ATA) that if they proceeded, “the district could cancel Nguyen’s health benefits, change his reason for termination, which has not been made public, and have the students arrested if they went through with the demonstration.” The students’ right to peacefully assemble was impeded by this threat, which sought to further silence the concerns of the students and the community as a whole.
On June 2, about 100 people attended an AUSD board meeting, where 20 students and parents brought their concerns regarding the First Amendment violations and the circumstances behind Nguyen’s dismissal. Students also voiced incidents where Schofield used intimidation against them, including a time when he questioned a Matador photographer’s journalistic integrity for taking pictures in a public area, which is legal. On the same day, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) formally threatened a lawsuit regarding the First Amendment violations, telling the district that it had until June 12 to respond. The district responded, saying they would conduct an investigation. However, on June 22, it was discovered that the superintendent’s letter responding to ACLU was removed from the district website.
On June 19, with approval from Superintendent Laura Tellez-Gagliano, The Matador was finally able to publish the article that had initially been censored.
On June 23, students and alumni protested in front of the district office with hero Transparency Man and brought their grievances to the board, emphasizing the board’s lack of action in light of student protest. Students also came forward with a recounting of when Schofield pulled two female first-year Matador staff writers out of class and brought them to tears after expressing his dissatisfaction with an article they had written regarding a school blackout. On June 25, The Matador released an article revealing the result of the district’s investigation, which claimed that the censorship was unintentional. The district previously denied this censorship occurred, even though The Matador released emails on July 16 that clearly show otherwise. On June 30, students again protested and requested answers at the board meeting. Community members also spoke about the district’s lack of community outreach, particularly focusing on the Local Control and Accountability Plan. The hearing for approving this $156 million budget lasted five minutes and stakeholders were not well educated on this important plan. On behalf of the board members, Board President Ms. Adele Andrade-Stadler announced that Andrew Nguyen would not be rehired and that personnel matters cannot be publicly discussed. On July 1, Debbie Stone became principal of San Gabriel High School, and Jim Schofield was promoted to Director of English Language Development.
AUSD held a private meeting by invitation only for current students and staff on July 8 regarding Employee Law with their attorney, Jay Fernow from Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost. Recording and photography were prohibited at this meeting, with administration going as far as locking up a Matador reporter’s camera in Assistant Principal of Guidance John Scanlan’s office. In addition, security guards flanked the doors as administrators checked ID cards. Fernow refused to answer students’ questions about specific cases. Around this time, students also learned that the district began investigating Nguyen after their decision not to rehire him, despite their emphasis on his right to privacy. The district even sent a school security officer to his doorstep, requesting that he meet with district administration without a union representative present.
In early August, Jennifer Kim, San Gabriel High School award-winning student media adviser, was placed on administrative leave indefinitely. Some view this as another act of retaliation in response to The Matador’s summer news coverage as San Gabriel High School’s yearbook staff previously encountered difficulty with the administration.
On Sept. 15, Reform AUSD filed a William’s Act Complaint concerning the lack of a qualified teacher in place of adviser Jennifer Kim. In late September, The Matador Online went offline after the district allowed the website hosting to expire to instead host the website on AUSD servers. The staff members were given one hour notice before the website hosting was changed and were unable to back up the archives from their website. Many of the links on DSUA to articles from The Matador are no longer available. The Matador Online can now be visited at http://thematadorsghs.us/.
On Nov. 13, 41 working days after the complaint was filed, Superintendent Laurel Bear responded stating that the assigned teacher demonstrated subject matter competency based on interviews with Principal Debbie Stone and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Marsha Gilbert.
On Dec. 14, Kim returned to the classroom after being on administrative leave for over 100 days.
The controversy quieted down until early Mar. 2016 when volleyball coach and P.E. teacher Chris Kwan was informed that his contract would not be renewed for the 2016-17 academic year. In response to this decision, the entire volleyball coaching staff, including Coach Larry Kanow who named the 2015 Pasadena Star-News’ Coach of the Year, have resigned from their coaching positions in support of Kwan, though they will finish out the current season. Kwan was also named Coach of the Year in 2011 and his teams have won 17 championships in his 21 years.
This is not the first time incidents like these have occurred in this district as seen with Danny Woo, a former basketball coach at Mark Keppel High School, and Maia Wu, a former honors student at Monterey Highlands Elementary School. Another notable incident involves Elizabeth Makarem, a former teacher at San Gabriel High School who was involuntarily transferred to an elementary school in 2014. In the wake of this summer, retired teacher Shi Ying Chen also stepped forward and recounted the workplace bullying that pushed her to retire.