It is with a heavy heart and extreme concern for our students, staff and community, that I’m compelled to apologize for the unfortunate distractions created by the latest comments from Board President Brooke Ashjian.
Today, I join various community members in asking Ashjian to step down from his duties as board president and allow Board Clerk Claudia Cazares to complete the remainder of his term.
I do not come to this decision lightly, as I held out hope that over time Ashjian would demonstrate the leadership traits that genuinely embrace our district’s diversity, reflect professional integrity, encourage collegiality among peers, and maintain focus on student achievement. For the sake of our children’s future, we can no longer wait.
Unfortunately, his most recent comments and his ensuing actions have once again greatly distracted from the priorities of both the board and the district.
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At a time when we should be focused on improving both special and alternative education, finalizing a superintendent contract, resolving negotiations with our teachers and welcoming our 74,000 students back to school, he has thrown us back into distraction and national headlines.
Trustee Ashjian’s recent remarks stating that children select to be gay and teaching them the state-required curriculum, may “sway” them to become gay, not only undermines our intent to teach the mandated curriculum, but also questions the veracity of the school district’s policy of inclusivity.
After his unfortunate statement, Ashjian continued the discourse in the media with claims that a reporter misquoted him, arguing the same reporter violated laws in conducting a survey, and that district staff was at fault for the ensuing community outrage. What is most concerning is that his claims were not supported by facts.
Furthermore, this incident is not the first of its kind for Ashjian. Just this year, he has managed to anger, insult and marginalize three of our minority communities with his statements. He offended the Hmong community when the district added Hmong language instruction to its curriculum options, then the Hispanic and immigrant communities as it related to immigration matters and now the LGBT community regarding sex education.
He has suggested that students north of Shaw Avenue want to attend college while kids south of Shaw just want a job. His remarks undermine our fundamental mission to ensure equity of education and high expectations and supports for all our students irrespective of their zip codes.
In the past, Ashjian has stated that the district should be operated like a business.
As such, I conclude that a responsible CEO would have by now stepped down given his inept remarks, inconsistent application of policy and procedures, and the ongoing investigation brought on in part, from his failure to timely disclose mandatory conflict-of-interest issues as required by law, which cost taxpayers millions of dollars in additional funds for facilities.
Furthermore, the discourse at the Aug. 9 board meeting in which Trustee Valerie Davis and I attempted to voice our respective positions regarding the latest incident over the board president’s objections was unfortunate, and I apologize for my break in decorum.
However, I will not apologize for standing up for wanting to acknowledge the room full of community members, students and parents who attended the board meeting.
Over the last eight months, the board president’s actions and behavior have created a hostile work environment for trustees and staff alike.
Although some may suggest this as an issue of freedom of speech, I would offer that free speech is not consequence-free, especially when you accept a position of leadership. Others may consider these politics as usual, but I would submit that the public expects that politics take a back seat to the needs of their children.
As I visited school sites this past week, I appreciated more than ever that our children and our city deserve a board of education that will fully embrace student diversity, focus on student achievement and student needs, address the most pressing student-driven issues and attempt to resolve the dozens of conflict of interest matters related to Trustee Ashjian.
In order to do so effectively, it is necessary for Ashjian to allow Cazares to lead our board in this trying time. If he elects not to voluntarily put the district’s best interest first by stepping down, I will formally request interim Superintendent Bob Nelson place the item on the upcoming agenda for the full board’s consideration. It’s time for us to put our kids first again.
Christopher De La Cerda represents the McLane area on the Fresno Unified Board of Trustees. Connect with him at Chris.Delacerda@fresnounified.org.