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San Dieguito superintendent on administrative leave for racially biased comment

Just five months into the job, San Dieguito Union High School District’s superintendent has been put on administrative leave.

Cheryl James-Ward was hired in November 2021 to lead the North County district’s more than 13,000 students. She has now been relieved of her duties pending an investigation into racially biased comments she made at a district diversity, equity and inclusion training last week.

She credited the academic success of the district’s Chinese students to wealthy parents and extended Asian families able to support them, unlike other minorities.


RELATED: San Dieguito Academy defaced again with racial, homophobic slurs

The backlash has been substantial.

Dozens of people expressed their anger over the superintendent’s comments during Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Some demanded Ward’s resignation.

During more than three hours of public comment, one parent of Asian descent said directly to Ward: “I just want to say your words deeply hurt me. They hurt my family and they discredited my kids and what they worked so hard for.”

The superintendent apologized publicly shortly after the training session comments, and she repeated the apology at the board meeting.


“I do apologize to our Asian community,” she said. “I apologize to the community at large and I apologize to my students.”

KPBS News reached out to San Dieguito School Board members and Ward following the decision to put her on administrative leave. None of them responded.

In January, Ward did speak about her plans for revitalizing the district’s efforts in diversity training and awareness following a couple of incidents of hate graffiti sprayed on walls at San Dieguito Academy.

At that time she told KPBS News: “We’re becoming a no place for hate district. Every school is a no place for hate school now.” She also expanded on her mission “to ensure that our staff understands what it means to be an anti-biased educator ... what it means to understand their own biases ... and that the work is ongoing.”

Not everyone is demanding a resignation.

Mali Woods-Drake is president of Encinitas4Equality. She also spoke at the board meeting and said, “I believe the approach is counsel not cancel and many of our students are already worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and hurting their classmates or their friends. But, they want to learn.”

Yusef Miller is with the North County Equity and Justice Coalition and he believes the problem is systemic. “If we had more inclusive thought, if we had more diverse thought and knowledge about different groups, this kind of statement would never have come out,” he said.

  • Just five months into the job, San Dieguito Union High School District’s superintendent has been put on administrative leave after making racially biased comments. Meanwhile, Friday is Earth day and there are clean up and environmental volunteer efforts and events planned all weekend.
  • A report published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows a world on track to push past the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.

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