What should have been a routine changing of the guard turned into a stalemate at last week’s Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting, when a motion to appoint trustee Claudia Rossi vice president failed to muster enough votes, with trustee Michael Chang absent and a bloc of charter school boosters—Joseph DiSalvo, Darcie Green and Grace Mah—abstaining. Typically, such assignments are a matter of rotation, so it took Rossi aback, she said, especially to see Green block her as VP by instead naming DiSalvo, “who just a few weeks ago treated female colleagues so poorly.” That poor treatment took place at a Sept. 6 hearing, when the veteran board member flipped out over a charter school petition. Rossi was the first from the board to interrogate the applicants, and she pulled no punches. When trustee Rosemary Kamei chimed in with a reminder about the time, and to note that Green had walked out, DiSalvo loudly interrupted, wondering why Rossi got to speak first. “We have always given everyone the opportunity to speak,” Kamei explained. “Not since I’ve been on the board,” DiSalvo replied. “I’ve been on the board longer than you.” Trustee Anna Song, who sat just left of DiSalvo, appeared to place her hand on his arm and ask him to calm down. DiSalvo flung her hand off. “Excuse me, don’t touch me,” he said. “Don’t touch me.” Kamei said, “Joseph, Joseph,” in a tone typically reserved for a child. “It’s going to be OK. Let her finish.” DiSalvo missed the following board meeting because an urgent family matter took him to San Diego, but he sent his wife, Christine DiSalvo, to read his one-page mea culpa. Brian Wheatley, president of the Evergreen Teachers Association, told Fly that he considers it the height of arrogance to belittle women and then have another woman apologize for him. Rossi, who said DiSalvo never gave her a personal apology, agreed. “I did not say anything because I felt some level of empathy for a spouse who would be put in a position to apologize on their husband’s behalf,” she said. “It compounded the offensive behavior.” In a phone call with Fly, DiSalvo chalked up his outburst to “passion” for charters and frustration with Rossi’s critical questions. “I felt that it was a conspiracy to start out from a negative place,” he said. “So, yes, I got angry.”
Below is the statement DiSalvo’s wife read at the Sept. 20 board meeting.
First, let me thank my wife, Christine, for agreeing to come to this podium and read this statement on my behalf. I wish I was there in person, however, we are dealing with very serious family issues in San Diego, where I have been since last Thursday. Christine flew home this morning to resume her work life and be here tonight to express my words.
Secondly, I want to sincerely apologize to my colleagues, Trustees Rossi, Kamai and Song whom I offended in an unfortunate and angry few minutes at our September 6 meeting.
In the moment, I inappropriately railed against our current process, which gives unlimited time for a trustee to speak during a charter school vote or hearing. Upon reflection, my outburst centered around the bigger issue that faces us all:
Our public education system continues to accept the unconscious bigotry of lowered expectations for children of color, even though current data screams for solutions. For 6-years, I have publicly and passionately fought to close the racial achievement gap. I believe that as trustees of this board, we need an “ALL hands on deck” approach, so that we can eliminate this unconscionable gap - some say gulf - that currently exists.
In 2010, this office and Board had an initiative called SJ/SV 2020, to eliminate the racial achievement gap by 2020. We have made a small dent in this gap, by taking courageous votes on some charter public schools, working on the Strong Start campaign and getting more seats in Santa Clara County for high-quality early learning options.
But this fight isn’t over. I commit to my community and to all of my colleagues that I will continue to fight and find ways that we can ALL work together and address the racial achievement gap instead of succumbing to a system that benefits adults, rather than ensuring the success of its children.
Tonight, I am sadly missing the hearing on KIPP Collegiate. We must find common ground so that we can continue to provide high-quality schools that provide high academic expectations for each and every student enrolled from Pre-K to 12th grade. I was very impressed to learn that KIPP employs a full-time mental health worker for each of their schools. Mental health is a very critical piece of the puzzle to address the learning needs of our children.
I take my position on this Board seriously and with honor. It is a privilege to serve. Thank you, Christine, for coming home and delivering these words on my behalf. I love you and our family very much.