Campbell Schools Trustee Matthew Dean Vows to Make Amends for Offensive Remarks

A South Bay schools trustee who came under fire for glibly denying the realities of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination says he’d rather redeem himself than resign.

Matthew Dean—a Campbell Union High School District board member since 2006 and former Campbell mayor—announced his decision Wednesday despite a litany of pleas that he step down and after more than an hour of impassioned testimony at a hearing convened to address his offensive statements.

“I was stunned, I was angry and all the words that came out of my mouth were messed up,” Dean said of his reaction at a May 17 board meeting to a student report about rampant racist and homophobic language at local schools.

Instead of commending student board members Muskaan Sandu and Taykhoom Dalal for shedding light on the problem that night, he used an analogy about fat-shaming his son to condescendingly suggest that kids these days need to learn how to find the “diamond” or “gem” in hurtful slurs.

When San Jose Inside called Dean the next day, the voluble trustee espoused even more inflammatory views while opining at length about how students exaggerate their grievances and how society as a whole has become too sensitive.

Board President Kalen Gallagher issued a statement a few days later distancing himself and the rest of the all-white board from Dean’s remarks. And Dean released his own apology, saying his attempt to create a “teachable moment” for students backfired and instead became a learning experience for him.

San Jose Inside then published a column citing a small fraction of what Dean said in that phone call, including a comment about how he used to play a game called “Smear the Queer” as a kid and how nobody seemed offended by the term back in the late 1960s. He also rejected the existence of systemic racism, groused about how the #MeToo movement has forced men to be cautious about working with women and how the push to turn Columbus Day into an observance honoring indigenous people ignores the positive contributions of European colonialism.

A day after the article came out, Gallagher went to Dean’s house to have a one-on-one talk and let him know that he’d convene a special meeting to discuss his comments and, if he didn’t resign, would pursue a censure. Gallagher said his colleague’s remarks weighed on him, as did his own failure to immediately react.

“The words you said at that meeting really affected a lot of people,” Gallagher said Wednesday. “There’s been nothing we’ve done on this board for the positive that has elicited the level of response that we’ve gotten on this—and for good reason.”

After the May 17 meeting, he said, he had a hard time processing what he heard.

“But I looked in the mirror, too,” Gallagher said, “because during that time I did not call it out in the moment.”

Trustee Stacey Brown, who interrupted Dean at the May 17 meeting with an awkward exculpation about how he views things through a different lens than students, echoed Gallagher’s regret. While she meant to defuse the situation, she said she realizes that, as Sandu had told her numerous times before, impact trumps even the best intentions.

“I wish I could go back and have a re-do of that moment,” Brown said from the dais Wednesday, reading a statement she later posted on Facebook. “I pledge that moving forward I will confront bad behavior wherever I encounter it to deserve the title trustee.”

Fellow trustee Kristiina Arrasmith said she, too, was initially stunned into silence, trying to make sense of what Dean was trying to say and has since done “a lot of reflecting” on her own leadership. But, she promised to support him if he commits to genuine change.

“If you’re willing to stand up and pursue a different path, I’ll walk with you,” she said, acknowledging that doing so would require a “sharp turn” for Dean.

Linda Goytia, another board member, said she condemns Dean’s remarks, which gave her a “general sense of unease,” but that she understands the point he tried to make. Teachers, students and parents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, however, described how much pain his words caused them. A couple speakers were moved to tears.

Margarita Ortiz, a longtime teacher in the district, began her testimony by reading a prepared statement about the need to honor the voices of students and recognize systemic bias, but paused to fight back emotion.

“I want to keep reading,” she said. “But when I watch the video [of the May 17 meeting], it hurt. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been in high school, and what that video showed me was that nothing has changed. If not, it’s gotten worse. That should’ve never happened, and not here. I’m sorry that I couldn’t read this better. I think you should step down. … It doesn’t seem to me that you understand your community or that you understand the ramification of your words.”

Sandu said she left the May 17 meeting pondering how 64 years after Brown v. Board of Education, schools remain far from integrated and how disheartening it was to see leaders in her own district downplay and dismiss systemic bias.

“There’s no justification for bigotry,” she said, “and we shouldn’t try to change the topic when we’re talking about something that’s affecting our students so horribly. And that’s what I saw happen on our board.”

Dean, who spoke only at the end of the Wednesday meeting to say he’s profoundly sorry for what he said and the way he said it, still rationalized some of the controversy by blaming San Jose Inside for taking his comments out of context.

“Speaking with the reporter was a mistake,” Dean said.

He quickly backtracked by saying he still takes responsibility for his words, most of which were either summarized or not included in San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s initial column, which had to be kept short to fit in the print issue. Listed below are some of the more notable quotes that didn’t make it in the previous article.

His take on #MeToo:

“We’re in a society right now where if you pay a compliment to a woman, you might get charged with harassment. It’s come to the point where if I’m conducting reviews with women, I have to make sure that we’re not alone or there have to be windows on all sides or something. It’s fraught with peril in today’s environment, and now men aren’t engaging with women in the workplace and not hiring women because of that concern.”

On Christopher Columbus and colonialism:

“The student board members and I don’t see eye to eye on this. What it comes down to, I think, is that we as a society today are at a point where people are running around looking to be offended, and it’s just silly. I mean this whole country wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for someone other than the people who were already here to settle it. If America doesn’t get discovered, the whole world around us wouldn’t exist. It’s the path not taken. ... I don’t agree with making Columbus this ultimate villain. Did the settlers bring disease? Oh yeah, they did, but they didn’t mean to.”

On the achievement gap:

“We  have 50 ethnicities and 50 languages natively spoken in the district and it’s only two ethnic subpopulation that really struggle [black and Latino, he later clarified], but the other 48 cultures do well … So what’s the difference? Is it the system? I think it comes down to more of a cultural problem, a lack of parental involvement. ... Until the world has ended, there’s always improvements on the system. but I think each and every one of these students has a responsibility to step up, to not just be passive and say that’s OK.”

On being “colorblind”:

“You could say I’m white, but actually I’m speckled … race is not an identifier I use.”

On systemic racism:

“You know some of these people run around saying they’re marginalized, and I’m going, ‘Really? How?’ I guess they’ve never been to São Paulo and seen what a real slum is like. … I fundamentally question whether it’s them marginalizing themselves.”

On Sandu calling attention to the widespread use of the N-word at school:

“One of the comments this young lady made was about the N-word. Now, I play basketball and I almost always hear that word from one subset of people—not Caucasians. That’s all I was trying to say. So it’s really interesting that in almost 59 years of living and years of playing basketball, that 99.9 percent of the time I’ve heard the word, it comes from that one group. But the way she’s portraying it—purely anecdotally, by the way—makes it sound like students hear it all the time on all of our campuses, and I just don’t believe that picture. There are students that probably throw it around here and there, but to characterize it like it’s somehow completely pervasive in the culture is just hard to believe.”

On his “tough love” parenting style:

“One time my son was in seventh or eighth grade and someone called him fat, and he came and told us about it. And I didn’t necessarily say this then, but the message was, well, ‘Go look at your BMI. You’re round, son. But whose fault is it? Your mother and I, we provide good nutritious food. We’re not holding you down stuffing garbage in your mouth. ... You can make that statement someone told you completely factually inaccurate by changing your behavior, by changing what you eat.’… You want sympathy? Go talk to your mom. I’m just telling you the facts.’”

On verbal harassment in general:

“There’s a responsibility on the receiver of comments to choose how they respond. And if they choose a response of victimhood, that’s what they become. ... You don’t like the words? Then change the reality.”

And finally, on one of his favorite games in third grade:

“There’s a game called ‘Smear the Queer,’ and we played that for years in elementary school. That word didn’t have any negative connotations to us. Nobody was offended. All it meant was that the guy with the ball was the ‘queer,’ and the rest of us would run around on the grass and chase him. That’s what boys needed at recess. But people now turn a word and an innocent game into something that it’s not.”

At the end of the Wednesday session, Arrasmith asked Dean what steps he plans to take to learn his way out of his admitted obliviousness to discrimination. After a long pause, he replied that he will interact more with students and expand his reading repertoire. He also admitted that he needs help.

“I’m open to suggestions,” he said.

The hearing ended in a 4-0 vote—with Dean abstaining—authorizing Gallagher to draft a censure to bring to the board at its next regularly scheduled meeting June 14.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

13 Comments

  1. As a fellow speckled American, I commend Dean for appearing truly sorry. I hope he finds the books he needs to become a better person. I would suggest starting with “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson.

  2. Words have consequences. Dean needs to resign.

    I have had the unique opportunity to engage students in strategic planning for school districts throughout the country. Their insights into the direction that the districts should take moving forward are generally always very to the point and important. Students expect that their teachers will respect them and give them voice within the classroom. They expect that their teachers know their content well and can teach them in an expert manner. They want their teachers to prepare them for college and career.

    The goals that students want for their schools is straight forward and appropriate. It would behoove the district to establish a system to continuously engage students in a process to seek information, plan for improvement, act on this information and then continuously monitor improvement. The time for patronizing and demeaning our students is over.

    The students have identified systemic problems with regard to racism, intimidation, bullying, and sexual harassment. Similar work is ongoing in other school districts including Santa Clara Unified School District. It is unclear whether this school district has the ability to heal itself and may actually benefit from an independent and comprehensive investigation of the extent and degree of the problem within their midst.

    I hope that the District will use the honesty, openness, and transparency of an independent investigation to begin to move forward.

    I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate the students on their work, insight, and courage. Additionally, a great debt of gratitude is in order for Jennifer Wadsworth for her outstanding work in exposing the racism, intimidation, bullying, and sexual harassment that apparently is widespread within the School Districts in Santa Clara County.

    If you would like to see the disparity of student performance on state tests within the Campbell Union High School District and all of the other school districts in Santa Clara County, you can visit http://sipbigpicture.com and view the Data Visualization page or the Academic Olympics page.

  3. I shrug off his comments and demand he NOT resign. People ARE too sensitive. There is no inalienable right not to be offended or have one’s feelings hurt. Grow up, folks.

    • Dean is a racist Board Member and made disrespectful and racist comments to students. The students should then make him pay a price by boycotting classes. I love smash mouth politics. You can’t lead if no one chooses to follow. Who would want to follow this racist fool No one! Actions speak louder than words. Let our actions tell our story. He will think twice before spouting any more racist vitriol.

  4. Racist comments can have real deleterious consequences within a school system. For example, after hearing Dean’s demeaning comments, students might elect to give up their struggle to catalyze real change to racism within the system. Also district leaders, principals, and teachers will take the racist comments as cover for their own inaction and advocacy of racism within the system. So Dean’s words are not just the opinions of some random racist within the system, they have real consequences that are actions. They are the thoughts and words of a leader who must be replaced along with all of his sycophant board member friends.

  5. > Racist comments can have real deleterious consequences within a school system.

    Bill:

    You’ve gone off the deep end. I think you’ve spent too much of your life in the tribalist public education stew pot.

    Your data analytics which show differences in achievement between — oh say — blacks and asians can easily be characterized as “racist” by those who make their living in the Race Industry.

    Agreeing with all the ridiculous “racist” premises and constructs of the “progressive” public education ideologues doesn’t show leadership; it shows just the opposite: “go along to get along” timidity.

    “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

    • If acknowledging the achievement gap is racists, then someone should tell these publications:

      http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-california-tests-20180409-htmlstory.html

      https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/California-schools-report-reading-gains-but-12830035.php

      https://www.scpr.org/news/2018/06/01/83566/election-2018-your-guide-to-the-race-for-state-sup/

      https://www.the74million.org/article/edlection2018-california-state-superintendent-candidate-tony-thurmond-on-high-quality-schools-early-education-and-help-for-english-learners/

      https://edsource.org/2018/california-governors-race-democrats-agree-on-child-care-differ-on-charters/598329

      What is concerning is the basic assumption throughout much of recent election debate is that the reason for the achievement gap is that parents of minorities are not preparing their 2-year-olds for school. So they want teachers and other education officials to go to peoples homes and read and sing to minority children.

      Of course, the gap has nothing to do with high achieving senior teachers using that seniority to move to higher ranked schools and that the schools are holding these kids to lower expectations. The CTA and Gavin Newsom’s position is the parents can’t parent. The parents are saying the opposite. As a parent, I tend to agree with the parents.

      http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-black-latino-parent-survey-20160408-snap-htmlstory.html

      • Wait.

        Isn’t demanding better teachers and harder classes “acting white”?

        Isn’t encouraging minority students to “act white” really “cultural imperialism”?

        If the black and hispanic parents actually act “whiter”, isn’t that “cultural appropriation”.

        DAMN IT. Blacks should ACT like blacks, and Hispanics should ACT like Hispanics.

        The public education bureaucrats need to do a better job of explaining to Blacks HOW to ACT black, and explaining to Hispanics HOW to act Hispanic. After all, isn’t that the whole point of public education?

    • Mea Culpa
      Mea Culpa
      Mea Maxima Culpa
      The fact is that I did spend too much time in the toxic stew of public education and too often went along with or ignored implicit and blatant bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment, and yes racism. It’s now time in the comment to turn on the Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter. Minimally, staff and children deserve a safe and nurturing environment that will allow them to learn. Unfortunately the stew is full of rotten baked beans who think it is ok to demean staff and students in ugly racial ways. It is our moral imperative to call out misogynistic, homophobic, intimidating language and actions as soon as they occur in our midst. Our children deserve that. No one should have to put up with a hostile school environment. So from now on, we can no longer give the benefit of doubt to the racists in our midst, we need to immediately call them out when they act up.

      We need to address the systemic racism within the K-12 education system as well including:
      -Cowardly district and school leaders who fail to assign their best teachers to the neediest students.
      -Enrolling English Learners in half-baked dual immersion classes where it takes 8 years to learn English while entitled white kids learn Spanish.
      -Tracking students of color into low end classes and not even offering high level courses.
      -Failure of educational leaders to demand high quality curriculum and professional practices from themselves or their teachers.
      -Failure to allocate state and federal funds in an equitable fashion instead of buying technology toys for white kids.
      -Warehousing students of color in decrepit schools with the least prepared teachers (aka Teach for America).
      -Failure to use assessments appropriately to diagnose student academic needs early and to plan, ,implement, and monitor appropriate interventions.

      The use of racist language is just one artifact of an overall system that exhibits multiple artifacts of racism. We have a long way to go. Of course, Dean needs to go as soon as possible. This twit has no right to sit on a School Board that can influence the lives of so many children. He should not even be entrusted to set up a lemonade stand within the District. The School Board is not the place to get on the job training in how to appropriately address students and staff.

      Onward!

  6. My white privilege is blocking me from seeing the racist statement in this article. Can someone enlighten me?

  7. I agree that we do a lot of whining about the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of the K-12 system. Based on the student outcomes, many K-12 systems are not implementing the practices that will get results for students especially students of color, economically disadvantaged students, English Learners, and Students with Disability.

    The failure of the K-12 education system does not absolve the individual students and their parents from taking action to ensure that the children are on track to be college and career ready. It is incumbent of parents and children to do what is necessary to academically prepare their students. They cannot depend on the K-12 education system as it is not a system, it is chaos where you might get luck and get an outstanding teacher (of which there are many). But who wants to take that chance.

    Save thyselves parents and students. Take the bull by the horn and keep yourselves on track for ultimate success in college and career because the current K-12 system for the most part is more about Me First, My Family First, and My Friends First. Get your acts together students and parents. Take what actions you must to prepare yourselves. Don’t depend on the K-12 system!

  8. We are not 100% sure he is racist, but he is the definition of a stupid man. The comment, akin to Roseann’s comment, which lost her millions, speaks volumes of what is going on in his mind. “look boy, just deal with it.” Really?

    Dude, you reached your limit in the world of politics. You were quite stupid before this comment, and even stupider during and after this comment. Trust me, there is more to this.

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