School board trustee Mike Dunn was censured with a 4-0 vote at the school board meeting on Feb. 6 during a tension-filled meeting packed with students, parents and community members alike.
The censure, or a formal statement of disapproval, was proposed by board clerk Dr. Betsy Connolly in response to Dunn’s interaction with Jess Weihe, a local mother of two who writes the blog Anonymous Mommy. and her employer Scott Harris.
Weihe criticized Dunn during the Jan. 23 board meeting after learning that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie– the book that prompted the debates over core literature and the eventual creation of a new opt-out policy for core literature selections in the first place– was not marked by the California Department of Education for containing mature content.
The new opt-out policy requires that teachers hand out a syllabus with the names of the books they will be teaching in their class for parents to sign and return; any books that the CDE considers to be mature must be marked with an asterisk to caution parents that they may be inappropriate for young readers.
“Mr. Dunn, who cannot and has not confirmed he actually read the book in entirety, … falsely and inappropriately asserted in a public letter to The Acorn that approving this book was akin to ‘child abuse’ and that it was ‘pornographic’ in nature,” said Weihe at the Jan. 23 school board meeting. “I find it extremely troubling that this board has allowed a board member to disperse a false narrative about this book in order to take advantage and greenlight a shoddy alternative assignment policy.”
In response to Weihe’s criticisms, Dunn sent an email to Harris, the owner of Mustang Marketing where Weihe works, saying that “every time [Weihe] slanders or libels the school district or a school board member during public comments at a board meeting, I am going to respond that [Weihe] works for Mustang Marketing and that you support her opinions.”
Harris responded to Dunn, supporting Weihe’s right to free speech.
“I support [Weihe’s] right to her views and to her expressing them,” Harris said in his email response to Dunn. “Her views are her own, not mine or my [company’s].”
Dunn requested mediation to resolve the issue, but Harris said he would only attend a meeting if Dunn would “offer a full and public apology,” as well as his “resignation from the board.”
In response to Dunn’s actions, Connolly proposed that the board formally censure him at the Feb. 6 meeting for his “unacceptable, unprofessional, irresponsible behavior that cannot be tolerated,” according the the censure resolution. The complete resolution is available at conejousd.org.
“I cannot tell you how many people– teachers, administrators and community members– have approached me, not just recently, but over the years, to tell me things that had been said by Mr. Dunn and threatened by Mr. Dunn that they were afraid to reveal,” said Connolly at the Feb. 6 board meeting. “I am tired of putting a good face on it, and that is why I wrote this resolution.”
Before the meeting, a group of Weihe supporters gathered on the sidewalk outside wearing purple and holding signs reading slogans such as “done with Dunn” and “free speech.” The meeting was packed with parents and community members, many of whom spoke at public comments regarding the issue. The district issued tickets for the meeting in order to comply with fire safety standards, so only 160 people could be admitted.
Despite the large turnout of the meeting, Dunn did not attend.
“My wife has asked me not to attend the board meeting,” read a note from Dunn that board president John Andersen read during the beginning of the meeting. “The attacks against me have crossed the line. The attacks have hurt my wife and me. That said, I should have ignored the attacks and not responded.”
All four board members, including board vice president Sandee Everett and Andersen, who usually side with Dunn, approved the measure to censure him. Though the censure is no more than an official reprimanding, the unanimous approval still sends a strong message to the community.
Weihe’s full Jan. 23 public comments and Dunn’s correspondence with Harris are available at anonymousmommy.com, where Weihe compiled a timeline of all events and emails involved in the conflict.