Students flooded the Alhambra Unified School District board meeting Tuesday for a second time, demanding answers to censorship allegations brought by the American Civil Liberties Union after the firing of a popular teacher. The district did not directly respond to their charges, but a letter dated June 19 reports that an internal investigation concluded that there were no intentional acts of censorship.
The ACLU threatened a lawsuit on June 2, accusing the district of a lack of transparency following the dismissal this spring of Andrew Nguyen, a first-year San Gabriel High School English teacher and debate coach. The Matador, SGHS’s campus newspaper, alleged that Principal Jim Schofield had barred them from publishing stories about Nguyen’s departure. Later, Nguyen said that the district threatened arrest against a group of students who had planned to protest his dismissal. The ACLU demanded that the district conduct an investigation.
In a letter dated June 19, the district said that an investigation found that Schofield had not intended to censor The Matador. “Instead, his intent was to express his concerns regarding the teacher’s right to privacy,” said the district. The letter also said that the administrators had never implied that student protesters would be arrested.
The AUSD added that it will hold “mandatory training” for all staff involved in student publications. Participants will be taught the “specific grounds and procedures that must be followed before student publications can be restricted.”
Before this letter was circulated via The Matador, students protested June 23 at the AUSD building prior to a school board meeting. Protesters lined the sidewalk, holding up signs and chanting, “Hey hey, hoo hoo, school board shady, can’t see through!”
The AUSD board room was filled to capacity for the meeting. The majority of the speakers were SGHS students and alumni, and writers for The Matador. Several members of The Matador called for Schofield’s dismissal, saying that he had purposely intimidated students in the past.
Erin Truong, incoming editor-in-chief of The Matador, said that Schofield approached her and another writer last year during class to speak with them about a published story regarding a campus blackout. Truong said that Schofield, claiming that the article was inaccurate, had taken them out of the classroom without speaking first to either The Matador’s advisor or editor-in-chief. Truong said that he “drove her to tears” and lectured her even when she was visibly distressed.
“This was an abuse of power,” said Truong. “If he had an issue with the article, he could have expressed that through other means. He could have contacted our advisor and worked with us to produce another article.”
Other speakers said they were unsatisfied with the response from the school board regarding these issues, and that there was a lack of transparency among the AUSD. Some criticized the district for removing an undated statement published online that responded to the ACLU’s investigation request. Speakers also expressed discontent with the minutes posted for a June 2 school board meeting. They said that the document was oversimplified and did not reflect many of the issues that were brought up that night.
Others reiterated a previous demand that the district should release to the public the reason for Nguyen’s dismissal. They also asked for accessible video recordings of future board meetings, as well as meeting minutes written in various languages to accommodate the surrounding population.
SGHS alum Michael Vuong, who was in attendance at the meeting, said that people could be misconstruing the AUSD’s intentions. “I think there’s a lack of communication, but not necessarily a lack of transparency. Most of the time, personnel issues can’t be discussed openly in public. Students feel there is a misunderstanding because they don’t understand the process,” said Vuong.
In contrast, Kelly Ho, staff writer for The Matador, said that the AUSD “haven’t been reaching out to the community and haven’t taken the first steps to speak to the community and answer their questions and answer them completely.”
“Hopefully the board will have to do something because it looks like they are ignoring the whole community now,” said Simon Hong, a parent of a SGHS student. Hong had come out to support his son, Eric, who spoke before the board.
Following the end of public comment, Board President Adele Andrade-Stadler assured attendees that “we are here and we do hear you, and we know that this is democracy in action.”
The next AUSD board meeting will take place June 30. The board will convene to approve the upcoming Local Control & Accountability Plan (LCAP). The next regular board meeting will take place on July 14th.