School board meeting reveals split opinions on Salt Lake district’s handling of Gadson situation | #Education | #sextrafficing | #childsaftey


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City School District school board again declined Tuesday to offer any reasoning as to why Superintendent Timothy Gadson — the first Black educator selected to lead a Utah school district — was placed on administrative leave last month.

“We know you have questions, and while we do not have a resolution tonight, as a board, we feel it is important to share as much as possible while respecting the rights and dignity of all our employees and also following our board statement of ethics,” board president Melissa Ford said a meeting Tuesday. “That statement of ethics, which we review every year, requires that we don’t disclose the details of closed meeting discussions regarding confidential personnel matters.”

During public comments Tuesday, NAACP Salt Lake Branch President Jeanetta Williams said the school board is in a “blatant racial discrimination pandemic.”

There have been many questions surrounding the district’s decision to place Gadson on leave only a year after he was appointed to the position.

Two days after the board placed Gadson on administrative leave in July, Salt Lake City Board of Education President Melissa Ford and Board Vice President Nate Salazar released a joint statement acknowledging the community’s “desire for more information,” pertaining to Gadson’s status. In that statement, Ford and Salazar also declined to comment on the personnel matter.

The abrupt decision to place Gadson on administrative leave has led some to allege that he’s been the victim of racism and discrimination in an effort to force him to resign.

“We assert that the core of this campaign to force out Dr. Gadson is driven by individual board members upset that he has not acted on direction given directly by them to him. This has led to an environment of intimidation, racial harassment, unfounded complaints, and secretive closed-door meetings to push him out without due process, and without cause,” former state Sen. James Evans and Williams, the NAACP Salt Lake branch president, said in a letter to residents.

Fast-forward to Tuesday’s Salt Lake City School District school board meeting, when Ford added that Gadson has requested mediation of his dispute and that the board plans to participate in that process “in good faith” and that it is “committed to transparency.”

“If there ever were to be a termination of either of our two direct employees’ contracts, that would be done in an open and public meeting,” Ford said.

Ford said the district remains focused on being prepared for the start of the school year and has “full faith and confidence in our district and school administrators, our educators, and staff. … Our students are our No. 1 priority, and you have our commitment that this personnel matter will not impact our students’ day-to-day educational experience.”

She thanked district employees for their work and dedication in preparing for the school year. “We know that you are getting questions and that this is a distraction from the important work you do each day to serve our students,” she said.

During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, community voices spoke up both for and against Gadson.

“What is happening with the Salt Lake City School Board is clearly racism,” Williams said Tuesday, adding that the district is demonstrating institutional racism. “The Salt Lake School Board is in the middle of a pandemic and I’m not referring to COVID-19 or the monkeypox, but a blatant racial discrimination pandemic. Disparities exist for many reasons, from institutional policies that under-resource schools in communities of color to discriminate hiring and employment practices.”

She later challenged the board to “explore and identify your own implicit biases.”

Additionally, board member Mohamed Baayd — the only board member to publicly support Gadson — says that Gadson faced racial harassment.

“The systemic racism and the institutional racism we have within our district, unfortunately, was not ready to receive a Black leader who can actually lead a district in a different direction,” Baayd said in a recent interview with KSL-TV and KSL NewsRadio. “Unfortunately when (Gadson) came in, the board failed in actually supporting him and accomplishing the agenda of taking care of our students and our families.”

Timothy Gadson, incoming Salt Lake City School District superintendent, talks with other educators as he tours district facilities in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Following the Salt Lake City School District's decision to place superintendent Timothy Gadson on administrative leave only a year after he was appointed to the position, the board still hasn't given any reasoning as to why Gadson was placed on administrative leave last month.
Timothy Gadson, incoming Salt Lake City School District superintendent, talks with other educators as he tours district facilities in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Following the Salt Lake City School District’s decision to place superintendent Timothy Gadson on administrative leave only a year after he was appointed to the position, the board still hasn’t given any reasoning as to why Gadson was placed on administrative leave last month. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Conversely, others who spoke Tuesday sided with the board’s decision to place Gadson on administrative leave and even encouraged further action toward dismissing Gadson.

Maggie Cummings, principal at Meadowlark Elementary, pointed to the listening tours held by Gadson upon his appointment to the role of superintendent last year and said they weren’t as constructive as some have claimed.

“When he came to talk to schools, my faculty was very excited,” Cummings said. “While it was happening, he seemed indifferent to what our teachers had to say (and) worse, when our teachers asked why was he cutting teachers while at the same time increasing district administration, he abruptly and forcefully shut down the conversation, telling them they didn’t understand.”

Cummings said that those teachers left the listening tour feeling unheard.

“A year ago, like every other administrator I know, I was excited that our new superintendent would sharpen our focus through example, advocacy and policy,” Cummings said. “Today, it’s clear that that’s not where our attention is being focused.”

Robert Hamilton, a parent of two high schoolers in the district, described himself as an “active parent in the community throughout their time in the Salt Lake School District.”

“We as parents in the school community are also aware of the retaliatory climate that has become the norm for our teachers and principals, and their voices appeared ignored by the superintendency, notably at the listening tours held across schools,” Hamilton said. “We encourage the board to separate from the current superintendent as soon as possible so we can move forward.”

Hamilton also suggested strengthening the human resources department at the district, citing what he described as “serious concerns of questionable hires.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m., though the agenda for that meeting has not been set.

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter with KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and military news.

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