The Fresno middle school vice principal who attracted national attention after being recorded on a student’s cell phone saying “I just don’t like the black kids” has returned to work at Fresno Unified School District after more than a month on paid administrative leave.
Former Scandinavian Middle vice principal Joe DiFilippo is no longer working at that school or any other K-12 campus, Superintendent Michael Hanson said Thursday. He did not say where DiFilippo is working or what his new job duties entail.
DiFilippo’s return comes after an outside investigator probed the incident. DiFilippo was recorded outside the cafeteria at the east-central Fresno campus in March, sparking outrage among many students and parents and drawing national media attention. DiFilippo was put on paid leave after the recording became public.
Hanson said the investigation has concluded, but he declined to discuss details, citing personnel privacy rules. Both he and the district’s human resources head have since met with DiFilippo, Hanson said.
“I have delivered the message clearly to our employee, and I would want our community to understand the same message, that the comments made in the video were inappropriate, we won’t tolerate them in Fresno Unified with such a diverse student population,” he said. “We won’t condone it, we won’t support it.”
DiFilippo has been disciplined using a restorative justice model, Hanson said, which focuses on repairing relationships instead of harsh punishment. It’s a method that’s already being used at some Fresno Unified schools to deal with students who misbehave, he said.
The method will also be used to help repair hurt among students and staff at Scandinavian. Hanson was planning to visit the campus around the lunch hour on Thursday to meet with and apologize to the black students who attend classes there.
Some on campus have shown support for DiFilippo, including more than a dozen educators who attended a school board meeting in late March. Many said they hold DiFilippo in high regard, and one claimed DiFilippo was baited by students looking to get him in trouble.
In early April, a group of concerned black leaders called on school board members to ensure children will never be the target of hateful comments when they go to school. Hanson said he’s met with several of those individuals.
“It was a difficult meeting at times, but it was an honest, respectful meeting that addressed a range of very serious and impactful issues.”
One of the group members, West Fresno Christian Center Pastor James Parks, said the group’s focus has never been about DiFilippo.
“It seems like all the focus has been on the (vice principal), with little or none on the children who have to go to that school every day,” he said. “We don’t want to be punitive, we just want the kids to be OK.” Parks said he also hopes DiFilippo has not been placed in a position where he oversees or works with black children.
Hanson said he’s talked with all Fresno Unified principals about the importance of being sensitive to issues related to race and ethnicity. It’s so important, he said, considering a national conversation that’s erupted following deaths of several black men at the hands of law enforcement officials in major cities across the U.S.
“We are incredibly blessed we have folks in Fresno that continue to work so we don’t become one of those communities. Fresno Unified is committed to being part of that continued solution.”