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Superintendent apologizes for comments about Asian students in San Dieguito Union School District

Posted at 5:41 PM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 20:44:28-04

SAN DIEGO, CA (KGTV) — A local superintendent is apologizing after comments she made about Asian students sparked outrage in the community.

“One of the things that obviously jumps at the bottom, the low end here, the ones that are doing better are Asians. Do we know why Asians do so well in school? Do we know why?”

It was that question asked by a board trustee during a San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training Monday, when "D” and “F” grade data was being discussed, that prompted a response from Superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward that was quickly met with backlash.

“I can tell you part of that reason,” she said. “So here in San Dieguito we have an influx of Asians from China, the people who are able to make that are wealthy, you cannot come to America and buy a house for 2 million dollars unless you have money.

That comment and others were quickly met with backlash.

“We had a large influx of Chinese families moving in, sight unseen, into our homes, into the community, and that requires money the whole family comes, grandparents, parents, and the grandparents are there to support the kids at home," said James-Ward, who says her background is Afro-Latino.

"Whereas in some of our Latinx communities, they don't have that type of money, parents are working two jobs. They’re working from sun up to sundown."

A nearly three-minute clip from the meeting posted by a user on YouTube received thousands of views and dozens of comments; with people sharing their personal stories about coming to the United States, and the hard work that went into earning success.

“Comments to say because we're wealthy, that's why we do well, there's sacrifices that are made, there are hardships. Being an immigrant, coming into the U.S. and automatically you're successful, it's just not true,” said JoAnn Fields, the Government and Public relations director of the Asian Pacific Islander Initiative. She said comments like those feed into harmful Asian stereotypes.

“We denounce that statement made and again it's disheartening to hear it from a leader of a school district,” she said, adding “And to say that Latinos are low income and that’s why they don’t do well. I would say you’re a representative of the Afro Latino community and you’ve done well, you’re an example of how supported you must have been to get where you’re at.”

James-Ward issued an apology in a letter sent to district families Wednesday night, saying in part,

"The two-minute posting included a comment that I made and that was taken out of context. Nevertheless, I should have slowed down when making the comments which did not provide the true complexities of student success and challenges, stereotyped a community, and caused harm. I apologize for the harm caused to any of our students, parents, and members of our community."

Fields hopes this incident can lead to meaningful discussions.

“Her apology I hope is sincere, I hope a discussion may come out of it and continue the training on DEI,” said Fields. “My hope is that we have a discussion so that we can talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and maybe that can be modeled for other families, what are the successful tools they use so that they do make the grades.” She encourages any students hurt by the comment to speak with a counselor or their parents.

ABC 10News requested an interview with James-Ward Thursday, but her office told us her schedule was full and she was unavailable. A town hall will be held at 6:00 p.m. at Canyon Crest Academy. James-Ward’s office told ABC 10News in an email, “this meeting is intended to address the pain that may have been caused to our Asian community and to learn how we can be better.”

The discussion will be moderated by San Diego State University Professor Lilly Cheng.