On Monday night, Tracy Lehr reported about a social media video that purportedly shows the embattled director of Santa Barbara High School’s Multimedia Arts and Design Academy partying with students.
The story, first aired on KEYT’s 6:30 p.m. newscast, is certain to fuel a simmering controversy over the tenure and job status of MAD Academy director Dan Williams, a volatile personnel issue which the Santa Barbara Unified School District board is scheduled to hear about on Tuesday night in closed session.
Before they do, however, the board also may get an earful on the matter from at least one MAD Academy parent: Justin Tuttle, who found the video on Instagram and provided it to Lehr and other reporters, said he intends to speak during public comment tonight.
“I’m very uncomfortable with Mr. Williams being around the children,” Tuttle told Newsmakers in a telephone interview we did shortly after Tracy’s report, adding that he has two kids in the popular program.
“He has no business being on campus,” Tuttle told us. “Every day that goes by that he’s there represents a huge liability for the district.”
Our story to date. The latest turmoil at the school district began last month, when officials suddenly and mysteriously announced that Williams was being placed on paid administrative leave “pending an investigation.” They said they legally could provide no other information because it was a personnel matter.
Two weeks later, however, SBHS principal Elise Simmons notified MAD Academy families that Williams would return to campus for the remainder of the school year but then would “retire” on June 30, although Williams, who has not commented publicly, is a few decades shy of retirement age.
The district’s boomerang handling of the Williams situation has caused confusion, consternation and anger among academy parents, with some supporting him and others upset that he has been allowed back on campus – despite a secret investigation that has apparently forced him into a very early “retirement.”
The controversy and the district’s categorical refusal to provide any information have inflamed the social media pages of parents and several parents’ groups, while simultaneously leaving Williams open to accusations about all manner of unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo.
Tuttle is the first parent to go on the record about the MAD Academy controversy. The Senior Deputy Public Defender in Ventura County, he said in our interview that he is likely to run for one of the three school board seats on next year’s ballot.
He said that he has spoken to other parents who told him that they provided “video, audio and (text) messaging” material to district officials “months ago” that called into question the behavior of Williams and another adult associated with the academy.
“They’ve turned a blind eye,” Tuttle charged. “It’s going to go from bad to worse.”
What's in the video. Via email, Tuttle provided us a copy of the 21-second video he said he found on Instagram, which Tracy on Monday became the first to report on. Her story included two brief glimpses of the recording, blurring students' faces.
Newsmakers is not publishing the video in order to shield the identities of four male students who appear in it.
“Yo Dan, gimme a thumbs up, bro,” one of the students yells, laughing, as he holds up a bong in one hand and a glass jar containing what appears to be marijuana in another. “Yack and rally!”*
A man who appears to be Williams flashes the thumbs up sign from where he is kneeling in front of a couch.
Up next. Also on the school board’s closed session tonight is a performance evaluation for Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. The board meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at district headquarters at 720 Santa Barbara Street.
*Correction: An early edition of this post incorrectly transcribed the video. The student did not say "I can rally" but rather "Yack and rally." The Urban Dictionary defines the latter phrase as, "The act of puking and then continuing to party."
Images: Tracy Lehr (frame grab); Justin Tuttle (Linked In); Dan Williams (KEYT); Cary Matsuoka (Paul Wellman).