San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward was placed on administrative leave on Apr. 20 following her controversial comments regarding Chinese-American students.
During an Apr. 11 SDUHSD Board meeting on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Trustee Michael Allman asked James-Ward “Do we know why Asians do so well in school?” as part of a conversation about racial discrepancies in the number of students who receive D and F grades.
James-Ward responded that a large part of the reason was wealth. “We have an influx of Asians from China, and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy,” James-Ward said. “You cannot come to America and buy a house for $2 million unless you have money.”
She went on to support the idea that Asian American students benefit from a strong support system at home, drawing an explicit contrast to Latin American students, many of whom she said “Don’t have that kind of money.”
Statistically, James-Ward is correct that Asian students are less likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged than their peers. Just 12% of Asian students fall into this category, compared to 44% of Latino students and 19% of students overall What frustrated many listeners the most, though, appeared to be the lack of nuance in James-Ward’s analysis. One Asian-American attendee at the board meeting carried a sign reading “I Came Here With Nothing.”
“My initial reaction was just shocked, I think, about the question and the answer,” Darren, a Chinese and Vietnamese student, said. “It’s such a broad generalization being made from a superintendent who’s supposed to be advocating for all types of students.”
James-Ward, who is Afro-Latina, has made multiple attempts to amend her statements, acknowledging she spoke with “a bias that [she] didn’t know was there” and pledging to “learn more about the needs of the community [she] serves” in an Apr. 15 email. She also apologized directly to those who showed up in person at the board meeting to protest her comments.
The decision to place James-Ward on administrative leave was reached by the board in a 3-1 vote during a closed session that ended after midnight, with Katrina Young being the sole dissenter. This is just the latest in a series of issues that have brought increased public attention to the board, such as swing vote Melisse Mossy’s resignation and James-Ward’s filing of an official complaint against Allman for allegedly creating a hostile work environment.
“There have been more issues this past year compared to previous years,” said Payton, Torrey Pines High School’s student representative on the board. “I have gotten many questions and concerns from both students and staff.”
Clips of the board meetings have been disseminated on social media, and have led to a wide variety of opinions among students, parents, and staff about what the long term repercussions of James-Ward’s statements should be. For the intervening period, Tina Douglas has been appointed as the interim superintendent.