San Dieguito superintendent’s comments about Asian students spark backlash and apology

During a San Dieguito Union High School board training session on Monday on diversity, equity, and inclusion, board administrator Michael Allman posed a question to the district superintendent: ” Do we know why Asian students do so well in school?

He was asking about district data that showed several groups of Asian students in the district — Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese Asian students — receive lower D and F grades than other racial groups.

Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward told Allman she knows part of the reason: It’s because wealthy families moved to San Dieguito from China.

“We have an influx of Asians from China, and the people who are able to make that trip are wealthy. You can’t come to America and buy a house for $2 million unless you have the money” , said James-Ward.

James-Ward, who is Afro-Latina, added: “In my community, in Carmel Valley … we had a large influx of Chinese families moving, unseen, into our homes, into the community, and that requires some the money. ”

Cheryl James-Ward is the superintendent of the San Dieguito Union School District.


Chinese families, James-Ward said, have parents and grandparents at home to provide for their children. Meanwhile, James-Ward said, some Latino families “don’t have the kind of money” that Chinese families do, and their parents are too busy working to help their kids around the house.

Within hours, James-Ward’s comments drew criticism from some who said they reinforced model minority stereotypes that Asians were all high achievers and high earners. The day after the board meeting, an unidentified user posted a three-minute video of James-Ward’s comments about Asian students on YouTube. The video received over 2,800 views in one day.

A San Diego organization that has opposed affirmative action and criticized school ethnic studies curricula as racially divisive condemned James-Ward’s comments on Tuesday, saying they amounted to ‘incendiary bigotry’ and that they stereotyped Asians.

“Dr. Ward’s comments were deeply offensive, grossly inaccurate and intentionally divisive, which is out of line with his leadership role in a major school district,” said Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, whose leaders are Chinese-Americans, in a statement.

In an interview, James-Ward accused whoever posted the video of taking his comments out of context and causing “this firestorm” in order to smear it. She said she doesn’t know who posted the video, but she suspects it has something to do with the backlash she received over the recent San Dieguito redistricting dispute and a complaint that she recently filed against Allman. She declined to describe the allegations contained in the complaint.

“We have this person who tries to play at the heart of our community, to divide the community, to hurt me. That’s what it’s all about,” James-Ward said of the person who posted the video. “Taking what I said out of context and putting this little thing out there is wrong to the core.”

San Dieguito has been in chaos for months as conservative council members, including Allman and council chairwoman Maureen Muir, clashed with liberal council members and James-Ward over issues such as redistricting. Allman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Later in her interview, James-Ward said she “probably should have been a little more careful and thoughtful with my words.” She said what she meant was that students succeed when they have the so-called “four capitals” – emotional, financial, educational and social capital.

“I should have said it differently, shouldn’t I, because the issue is very complex,” she said. “I should have left it at the ‘complex’.”

After finishing her interview, James-Ward called a reporter back to say she apologizes if her words hurt anyone in San Dieguito.

“If I hurt a member of my community, I am deeply sorry, and that would never be my intention,” she said.

San Dieguito, home to 12,700 middle and high school students, is a largely affluent district overall, with a median household income above $135,000 and fewer low-income families than other school districts.

About 12% of Asian students in San Dieguito are socioeconomically disadvantaged, compared to 19% of all San Dieguito students, according to state data. A higher share of Latino students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, at 44%, but most Latino students in the district, 56%, are not socioeconomically disadvantaged.

People should be careful when talking about Asian students outperforming other groups, as it may reinforce what has been a historical tendency to scapegoat Asians for problems that other communities face. face, said Samuel Museus, an education professor at UC San Diego who has written on race, equity and Asian-American studies. The most recent obvious example of this is how Asians and Asian Americans have been targeted for violent hate crimes because of COVID-19, Museus said.

This type of scapegoating, Museus said, leads to groups competing for resources rather than doing what should be done: examining how the education system provides resources and opportunities to certain groups and denies them to others. others.

Characterizing all Asian students as high achievers and affluent also obscures the diversity of groups within Asian American communities and the fact that some Asian Americans are disadvantaged and low achievers, Museus said. Not all Asians come from China or are of Chinese descent, and not all Asian students come from high-income families, he said.

The issue is complicated by the fact that many people are unclear about how to talk about Asian and Asian-American communities in the context of racial equity because of this model minority myth, Museus said.

“Because of the stereotype and the very simplistic data that people use over and over again and reinforce those stereotypes, we often don’t think we need to include Asian Americans in this conversation unless it’s about know why they are doing so well,” Museus mentioned. “So all of these complexities, these racial complexities, are not well understood and people don’t know how to talk about it.”

Museus said James-Ward’s language of Chinese families settling in the Carmel Valley “unseen, in our homes” seemed to reinforce a common “otherness” of Asians and Asian Americans. He said that kind of language has fueled the scapegoating of Asian and Asian-American communities in the United States throughout history.

“It differentiates the Asian immigrant who is a foreigner from those of us in the community who own these homes,” Museus said.

James-Ward planned to hold a town hall Thursday night with Melisse Mossy, a former board trustee who announced her resignation this week, where members of the public could ask questions about the neighborhood. On Wednesday afternoon, the municipality announced that the town hall had been canceled.

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