BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto school board member Todd Collins, who is in the middle of his first term and isn’t on the ballot Tuesday, has launched a last-minute effort to prevent the top-fundraising candidate from winning one of two open seats on the school board.
The Committee Opposing (Kathy) Jordan for School Board 2018 was set up on Wednesday and funded with a $2,668 loan from Collins, which was spent on an ad running in today’s Palo Alto Weekly.
“She has a temperament that is not always what you’d look for — she’s very persistent, she’s very dogged in her pursuit of what she believes is right, but she is not always as collegial,” Collins told the Post. “I mean, she can run over people.”
Collins said that because Jordan hasn’t been endorsed by any newspapers or elected officials, he didn’t become concerned that she would win until last month, when new campaign finance filings showed that she had raised $51,988.93 and spent $43,565.94, an unprecedented amount for a school board campaign.
The ad states that Jordan is “wrong for Palo Alto School Board” and references Jordan’s hostile relationship with the Campanile, a Palo Alto High School newspaper that Jordan repeatedly emailed.
Collins said the committee represents a “pretty wide group” of Palo Alto High School parents, some of whom have children who felt intimidated by Jordan while writing for the Campanile.
Collins declined to name any of the other supporters because, he said, they are parents who fear retaliation against their children if Jordan is elected.
Paly bathroom assault
In her emails last year, Jordan repeatedly demanded that the teens correct articles stating that an incident of forced oral sex in a Paly bathroom in 2016 was determined to be consensual.
Jordan only stopped emailing the students after the district hired a First Amendment lawyer to draft an email that former Paly Vice Principal Janice Chen sent to Jordan, telling her that the students were feeling threatened, stressed and harassed by Jordan’s emails, phone calls and text messages, which Chen said sometimes occurred more than once a day.
The Campanile eventually corrected the statement about the sexual assault last month, running the correction alongside an editorial criticizing Jordan’s “aggressive tone toward student reporters in the name of protecting victims of sexual assault.”
In an email to the Post yesterday, Jordan said Collins’ ad was an “attempt by the status quo to silence a school board candidate who stood up for a 14-year-old student sexual assault victim.”
“I’m sorry to hear how the students felt; it’s also important to recognize how the Campanile reporting that the incident was ‘consensual’ made the 14-year-old student and her family feel, after she reported to Paly staff that she’d been sexually assaulted,” Jordan said. “We also need to recognize the impact on other student victims of the Campanile’s reporting, and how that reporting might have deterred them from coming forward.”
Jordan accuses Wojcicki of covering for Diorio
Jordan said she should have realized earlier on that the students didn’t have access to accurate information at the time of their reporting last year.
“The adults they relied on were not providing them with that information,” Jordan said. “I only contacted the students directly after realizing I could not depend upon the Campanile teacher advisor.”
Jordan has accused Campanile advisor Esther Wojcicki of helping to cover for former Paly Principal Kim Diorio and other administrators who were found to have mishandled the October 2016 sex assault.
On May 18, 2017, Wojcicki emailed Diorio and then-Superintendent Max McGee to tell them she hoped they would like the next day’s issue of the Campanile.
Wojcicki said the paper’s “main message” was that Channel 2, which aired an interview with the sex assault victim stating that she had been assaulted in the bathroom, had gotten the story wrong and that the incident was “consensual, not an attack, and the community got upset because they did not have the correct facts.”
Wojcicki said the Campanile also communicated that “the administration acted according to the law and did a good job of it.”
In September 2017, an outside law firm that examined the district’s response to the sex assault found that Diorio and other administrators mishandled the girl’s report of being sexually assaulted.
The damning report has led the district to hire a full-time administrator to oversee the district’s compliance with sex discrimination law.
Areas of agreement
Although Collins has strong concerns about Jordan as a candidate, he agrees with her on many of the issues that she cares about.
“I’m sympathetic with a number of Kathy’s positions. I think she’s a good spokesperson for some of these positions and I applaud her zeal, but her approach leaves something to be desired, and this is a dramatic illustration,” Collins said.
In fact, after Jordan raised concerns about the student news reports, Collins emailed Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks and Title IX Compliance Officer Megan Farrell to ask that the Campanile retract the articles.
“I believe the statement is unverified (whether true or false), and therefore constitutes spreading sexual rumors, which is prohibited by board policy,” Collins wrote to Hendricks on Nov. 2, 2017. “If a student paper printed, ‘X was caught doing it with Y’ as news (true or not, verified or not), would we allow it?”
Collins said he has since learned that the board can do little to censor student publications under the California Student Free Expression Law of 1977, which affirms the right of high school newspapers to publish what they choose as long as it’s not obscene, libelous or slanderous.
That means that board members can’t involve themselves in student publications in the way that Jordan attempted to as a parent and advocate.
Student editor’s view
“Her conduct surrounding students has been absolutely unacceptable,” Ethan Nissim, one of the Campanile’s five editors-in-chief, told the Post. “I get that her intentions come from a good place, but I don’t think that excuses her conduct, especially toward students.”
Nissim cited one instance in which a student reporter set up a meeting with Jordan, but when the girl said she would be accompanied by an advisor, Jordan refused to meet unless the teen came alone.
A school board candidate claiming to be “anti-harassment” and “pro-student” should understand the risk of a student meeting an adult alone, Nissim said, especially after the teens received communications that were “the most aggressive and the most persistent contact we’ve ever gotten from someone.”
The Campanile’s retraction and editorial about Jordan was mostly well received, Nissim said, other than an email from a “very prominent Kathy Jordan supporter” that was “much more strongly worded and somehow a lot less respectful” than Jordan’s emails to the Campanile.
Wojcicki said that in her 36 years in the district, she’s never gotten involved in a school board race until now. Wojcicki worries that if Jordan is elected, teachers and administrators would resign, deteriorating the quality of students’ education.
“She lacks appropriate conflict resolution skills. She doesn’t talk to people. She just gets really angry,” Wojcicki told the Post. “Her way of dealing with problems does not work for students or for teachers. She’s just completely inappropriate.”