In a surprise move, Santa Barbara’s school board last night ordered its lawyers to alter the terms of the district’s settlement agreement with embattled MAD Academy Director Dan Williams to force his “immediate removal from campus.”
The board’s action, announced as they emerged from closed session, followed an eruption of angry, impassioned and heartfelt public comments and complaints from a parade of parents and their community supporters, several of whom called for the firing of Superintendent Cary Matsuoka.
Amid the scandal that has swirled around the leadership of the Multimedia Arts & Design Academy, it was at least a partial victory for parents who have accused district administrators of giving short shrift to complaints about Williams and Pablo Sweeney, the academy’s ex-operations director, and brought community pressure to bear on the matter.
Sweeney resigned in March, after a student presented a collection of material to a vice principal that raised questions about Sweeney’s behavior towards students, and Williams’ failure a year earlier to report the student's complaints about it.
Emotional testimony. On Tuesday night, a MAD parent, who later asked that her name not be used, pleaded with the board to ban Williams from the academy’s campus; after being placed on paid administrative leave last month during an internal investigation, Williams was allowed to return to complete the school year with the announcement he will retire effective June 30.
"I implore you," she said. “Dan was still at school today and I find that very disturbing. I asked my son today – ‘how does that feel?’ He doesn’t like it. The kids are confused.”
The mom said she had to go to Williams’ office last week to ask a question about logistics for a year-end project and was troubled by what she witnessed.
“I tell you right now, I walked into Dan’s office last week. I had to ask him a question and I really didn’t even want to go in there…and there was a boy in there that was wrangling him around from his back, wrestling in the office.
“I was promised that there would be either a principal or an assistant principal or someone…making close observation,” she said. “And that hasn’t happened.”
So moved... After a 90-minute closed session that followed public comment, the board returned and President Wendy Sims-Moten made a terse announcement about a motion that had been made by Laura Capps and seconded by Kate Ford.
“The Board gave direction in closed session to staff and legal counsel to initiate a revision to the Williams settlement agreement to include the immediate removal from campus.”
“This is a great first step towards protecting and prioritizing the students,” said Tami Sherman who with her husband, Mark, brought to light the experience of their son, the student who complained about Sweeney to Williams last year to no avail, and followed up this year by compiling more information about the situation.
Details, details... As a practical matter, however, it remains unclear how the board’s directive is to be carried out.
The district has entered into a legal agreement with Williams that, among other things, included his desire to be able to finish the school year in place.
An effort by district lawyers to revisit that single part of the agreement potentially could unravel the entire settlement – including Williams’ assent to retirement.
A California Teachers Union attorney has represented Williams; the CTA is perhaps the single most powerful special interest in Sacramento and the organization is responsible for gaining approval for a body of law that provides powerful protections for teachers against discipline and dismissal.
This may be one reason the board’s lawyers agreed to the provision allowing him to return to work, as part of a package that obtained his retirement, in lieu of a protracted and expensive legal fight.
More to come...
Images: Dan Williams; The MAD Academy; Laura Capps; CTA logo.