The Orange Unified School District’s temporary superintendent announced his departure on Wednesday.
One school board member says it’s a resignation.
It comes just six weeks after interim Superintendent Ed Velasquez was appointed to replace his controversially ousted predecessor over the holiday break, a firing which sparked recall interest against a new school board majority that campaigned on a conservative push to reshape education.
Velasquez announced his departure in a message to district staff and parents on Wednesday.
“It is with sadness that I announce that my last day as Interim Superintendent will be Thursday, February 16,” reads a Wednesday message to district staff and parents, which was posted on the school district community news page.
Kris Erickson, one elected school official who has clashed with the board majority, called Velasquez’s departure a “voluntary resignation” on Wednesday, adding, “my understanding is that (is) because of the disruptive way that he was brought in.”
“He became more of the story than he should’ve been,” Erickson said in a phone interview reacting to the news. “And my understanding is that he thought that kids were not the focus right now and that was disappointing to him.”
School board president Rick Ledesma, a member of the board majority who supported the controversial firings last month, didn’t respond to phone and text messages seeking comment on Wednesday.
It happened just after the New Year holiday on Jan. 5, when Ledesma and his majority colleagues convened a special meeting. By the end of it, the old superintendent, Gunn Marie Hansen, and her second-in-command, Cathleen Corella, were no longer with the district while parents and students were still on winter break.
The vote has now drawn threats of a government secrecy lawsuit.
Much of the outcry was centered around this:
Despite no prior public discussion about firing the superintendents, the school board majority already had their temporary replacements lined up at the special Jan. 5 meeting where the vote happened.
The abrupt firings and hirings pushed one school district resident, a Jordan Elementary parent and attorney, Gregory Pleasants, to file a complaint alleging violations of the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act open meeting laws.
His complaint, which is the first step toward a lawsuit, asserts the board majority ambushed the public with an insufficiently noticed special meeting, gave no explanation for their decision, and improperly agreed on the firings and replacements prior to any public discussion.
Pleasants’ letter also cites reporting by both Voice of OC and the Orange County Register, in which both of those employees’ replacements, Craig Abercrombie and Edward Velasquez, told reporters that school board president Ledesma contacted them about the positions before the Jan. 5 meeting.
“The District will continue the work of providing high-quality educational programs for our students with the leadership of Executive Cabinet while the Board of Education begins the process of hiring a permanent superintendent,” reads Velasquez’s Wednesday message.
Velasquez’s most notable public action as interim superintendent was suspending the district’s digital library application, Sora, after a couple of parents raised concerns of age-inappropriate books being available to students.
The district brought back the app with adjustments about a week later after other parents raised concerns of censorship, and argued the suspension took away book access from the district’s most economically disadvantaged students.
Erickson said district officials should appoint a temporary superintendent from within the existing ranks because those employees already know the school district.
Meanwhile, Erickson said the search for a permanent superintendent should be a thoroughly vetted, and transparent process.
“A good process is going to give people confidence, and this was a bad process – how they got rid of the superintendent and how they hired the new interim. It really did hurt morale and it created a lot of fear in the institution. So I’m hopeful we can move beyond that and start to restore a little bit of trust.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.