New gender-bias complaints emerge against Santa Clara County school official
The Santa Clara County Board of Education is pictured in this file photo. Photo by David Alexander.

Two local educators have leveled new complaints of gender-based harassment against Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Joseph Di Salvo, who's been in hot water over his behavior toward women.

The complaints came to the board after Di Salvo claimed a long record of supporting women in July to rebut an independent investigation that substantiated anonymous complaints of gender-based harassment against him.

The contents of the complaints and the identities of the teachers were not released at a board meeting Wednesday. But trustees, in heated argument, revealed the complaints stemmed from Di Salvo’s time in Palo Alto 15 years ago, where he served as the principal of Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School for more than three years.

Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Joseph Di Salvo faced two new complaints of gender-based harassment. Photo courtesy of SCCOE.

Di Salvo, whose term is up in November, filed a federal lawsuit against his fellow trustees Tuesday claiming violations of free speech and due process rights after the board voted on July 15 to censure him over the substantiated investigation of gender-based harassment. He claimed the effort was to damage his reputation and re-election chances.

The investigation, prompted by complaints from two staffers and two board members in January, found Di Salvo’s comments and behavior toward women who challenged him to be “negative, critical, disrespectful, dismissive, demeaning and heated.”

The Palo Alto teachers felt compelled to share their experience after hearing Di Salvo’s statements last month, legal counsel Ron Weinkart said during the meeting. They believed his statements were misleading with an intention to misinform the public, he said, which is a violation of the board’s bylaw.

“There’s a liability if this conduct continues,” Weinkart said. “Now we have two other people coming forward saying Mr. Di Salvo discriminated against (them) as well on the basis of gender.”

Di Salvo on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing. He did not participate in the discussion Wednesday night, despite having a chance to respond publicly.

“These letters have no relevance, (these incidents) happened years ago,” Di Salvo told Lucescamaray Blog. “They were workplace issues with the people I oversaw.”

Trustees Anna Song and Grace Mah, who have backed Di Salvo throughout the censure vote, pushed back on the new complaints, expressing strong disapproval of the decision to announce them and the potential of further reprimanding of Di Salvo.

“I’m thoroughly confused with what we’re doing here,” Song said.

Mah asked why the new complaints did not require a similar investigation as previous grievances before airing to the public.

Board President Claudia Rossi explained that the board has an obligation per its bylaws to discuss misconduct among trustees and decide appropriate actions to take.

Di Salvo declined to share the complaints, citing privacy issues. He added the board’s decision to publicize the Palo Alto complaints “just adds more fuel to my federal complaint.”

Di Salvo, who held his post as JLS principal until 2005, was ousted by the Palo Alto Unified School District, the Palo Alto Weekly reported. His ouster came after a teacher threatened a lawsuit against Di Salvo, “possibly involving sexual discrimination,” as he allegedly filed a complaint against the teacher, the paper reported.

Di Salvo and district officials have remained tight-lipped about the incident, citing personnel confidentiality and a gag order placed by a settlement.

Many residents Wednesday continued to praise Di Salvo’s decades of work, while others urged for more transparency from the board and for more information on the investigation that led to Di Salvo’s censure.

“This is a time of change, not to silence each other,” Bobby Welsh said during the meeting. “Give us more information so we know what’s going on.”

The board will revisit the issue at its next meeting on Sept. 2.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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