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Community rallies over controversies swirling the San Dieguito Union High school district

Tensions were high at the San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting last night. Community members rallied to express their opinions over recent controversies swirling through the district. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne has more.

Parents, students and community members rallied outside the San Dieguito Union High School District headquarters Thursday ahead of a contentious school board meeting.

One of the main tension points: recent comments Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward made about Asian students during a district training, and whether she should lose her job over the incident.

James-Ward was placed on administrative leave several weeks ago. The community is divided over what should happen next. Some who gathered Thursday said they want to see James Ward fired, while others want her reinstated.

Mali Woods-Drake is the president of Encinitas for Equality, which organized the Thursday rally outside district headquarters. She wants Allman to resign and James-Ward to be reinstated, she said.

"Intent really matters," said Woods-Drake. "She recognized that she made a mistake, she owned up to it and then came out with ‘heres solutions to move forward."

"When Ward made the comment about Chinese American children, that they are successful because of wealth, I feel like her comment is a slap on my cheek. And then she apologized, which is great. However, she went on an interview and basically recalled her apologies. She said she didn't say anything wrong with her first comment. That to me, that really hurt," said Yie Lu, a Carmel Valley resident.

His children graduated from the San Dieguito Union High School District and he said James-Ward should be fired.

James-Ward has publicly apologized over the comments she made. KPBS reached her Friday for comment.

San Dieguito Union High School District headquarters
Tania Thorne
Parents, students and activists rally outside of the San Dieguito Union High School District headquarters ahead of a contentious school board meeting. May 19, 2022.

"I heard some people say that I changed my story. I didn't change my story, I still said that I apologize for any harm or hurt that I caused, and I do. That has not changed," she said.

School board vice president Michael Allman is caught up in the controversy. James-Ward initiated an investigation earlier this spring into alleged inappropriate behavior by Allman.

James-Ward said she thinks her suspension is a form of retaliation for that action.

Allman has denied any wrongdoing. But there were calls for his resignation during Thursday's school board meeting.

While no decisions came out of Thursday's meeting, James-Ward says she will continue to talk to the community about diversity, equity and inclusion for healing.

"That's why I plan to stay, because we have to move forward, we have to move forward. There are individuals who would like to take us back, but as long as I can, my goal is to move forward and come back to the district, and to move us forward. That's the goal," she said.

James-Ward has retained legal representation and says she may take action if she is fired.

The next board meeting is scheduled for June 9.