Students filled an Alhambra United School District board meeting on Tuesday to speak in defense of San Gabriel High School teacher Jennifer Kim, who’s been put on administrative leave. Kim is an award-winning journalism advisor for The Matador, SGHS’s campus newspaper.
Kim, on leave since August 10 pending an investigation, is barred from speaking to current students or entering the campus without an escort. Kim told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that this decision came after an incident in which she encountered new SGHS Principal Debbie Stone at yearbook camp and tried to enforce Education Code 48907, which protects the rights of student publications. Stone has not commented on this situation. Marsha Gilbert, assistant superintendent of human resources, said that the department will not discuss employee matters with the public.
On Tuesday, students asked the board to reinstate Kim, praising her for her instruction and guidance in the classroom. Some voiced their concern of whether the district will hire a qualified teacher in her place. One student claimed that Kim was not given a reason for being put on leave.
“None of The Matador’s upper echelon were informed of her removal or why she was removed,” said Erin Truong, incoming editor-in-chief for The Matador. “Instead, we had to find out from second-hand sources and gossip that Ms. Kim would not be present to advise and assist us in the most crucial part of the year.”
In June, a similar scene unfolded as students packed the board room to protest the dismissal of Andrew Nguyen, a popular SGHS English teacher and Debate advisor. Students also alleged that Jim Schofield, then principal of SGHS, had barred The Matador from publishing materials about Nguyen’s dismissal. This prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to threaten a lawsuit against the school district, which they claimed had violated First Amendment rights. The district conducted a private investigation and concluded that Schofield did not intend to censor The Matador. During Tuesdays meeting, several students claimed that the decision to put Kim on leave was an act of retaliation.
"I thought that the district would take time over the summer to clear the air of intimidation, fear and retaliation that seems to have permeated this community," said Simon Yung, a SGHS alum and former copy editor of The Matador. "Unfortunately, as the school year begins, this fog of fear only seems to have thickened."
Several speakers at the meeting also talked in support of Nguyen. SGHS Speech and Debate member Eric Thai said that the team, which Nguyen had coached, now lacks a dedicated coach and an adequate classroom to use as practice space.
“When you take two amazing teachers away from the students for no apparent reason and do practically nothing regarding Mr. Schofield who has several accusations against him, we question your reasoning,” said SGHS alum Eric Fung. He also alleged that the district sent police officers to Nguyen’s home and took away student belongings from Kim’s classroom.
A heated exchange occurred towards the end of the public comment period. Board Vice President Pat Rodriguez-Mackintosh was speaking when Kim said that the audience couldn’t hear her. Rodriguez-Mackintosh brought the microphone closer and said, “Students are saying that we didn’t give her a reason. We did. She is supposed to tell you.”
“I’m under investigation,” Kim exclaimed.
Due to legal reasons, Kim has refrained from commenting on the situation at hand.
Earlier this year, Kim was one of 40 teachers who won the First Amendment Challenge sponsored by the American Society of News Editors. The contest awarded educators who teach the First Amendment freedoms.