School board may censure one of its own tonight

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – The local high school board may censure one of its own members tonight for alleged violations of board policies and conflict of interest laws, and for being disrespectful to staff, parents and volunteers.

The Northern Humboldt Union High School District Board of Trustees meets at 6 p.m. today, Nov. 14 at McKinleyville High School, 1300 Murray Rd. in McKinleyville.

Jennifer Knight

The board is scheduled to vote on a resolution condemning board member Jennifer Knight for a variety of alleged offenses, including using her position as a school board member to try to prevent the hiring of a coach who cut her nephew from the basketball team at Arcata High.

Knight did not respond to an email from the Union asking her to respond to the allegations. At a board meeting last month, she said that the issues could have been avoided if the district and the board had followed “policies and procedures.”
If the trustees approve the censure tonight, it simply serves as a public scolding of Knight and does not remove her from office. The board does not have the authority to remove Knight from office. That would require a recall effort, in which residents would have to gather signatures on a petition and get the recall on a ballot for voters to decide. (Click here for more about recalls.)

Knight was appointed to the school board and sworn in on Dec. 8, 2015. A year later, on Dec 1, 2016, Knight’s sister filed a complaint with the district after her son (Knight’s nephew) was cut from the Arcata High School varsity basketball team.

Knight served as one of the school board’s representatives on the district’s Athletic Policy Advisory Committee, and, according to the censure resolution, used her position to try to respond to her sister’s complaint, which is a conflict of interest.

“Ms. Knight stated that the purpose of this annual committee was to respond to her sister’s complaint, which was not true,” the censure resolution states. “Ms. Knight brought up the subject of her sister’s complaint at every meeting of this committee. Ms. Knight was disrespectful to staff and parents at these meetings and spoke disparagingly about the varsity coach, whom she blamed for the decision not to place her nephew to varsity basketball. Ms. Knight also spoke about individual students during these meetings. Ms. Knight’s behavior continued, despite district administrators instructing her repeatedly to stop...”

Knight’s statements about specific students and staff members at public meetings has been particularly cringe-worthy for administrators, who are trying to maintain confidentiality with regard to personnel and student evaluations. At meetings, Knight has been repeatedly warned by administrators to not discuss personnel issues. Knight has repeatedly ignored those warnings.

At two different meetings last month, Knight tried to prevent the hiring of the varsity coach who cut her nephew from the basketball team. She also opposed the hiring of a junior varsity coach who is “close” to the varsity coach. She didn’t give a reason for opposing the junior varsity coach, but cited his silent body language at an event they both attended, according to the censure resolution.

Perhaps the last straw for the board of trustees was Knight’s conduct at the Oct. 10 meeting, when she verbally disparaged a community volunteer who had applied to serve on the Athletic Policy Advisory Committee. After being publicly criticized by Knight, the parent volunteer was in tears.
The censure resolution also includes details of a two-day workshop in June during which Knight allegedly exhibited bizarre behavior, including emotional outbursts, loud crying, eye-rolling and repeated sarcastic comments during a presentation.

That workshop at the Humboldt County Office of Education in Eureka was held June 22 and June 23.

On June 22, the board of trustees held a meeting to consider its annual budget. Knight said she could not attend the meeting because she was out of town.

However, according to the censure resolution, this was not true. Knight was in town and attending the workshop at the Humboldt County Office of Education.

Knight had been told that she needed to register for the workshop beforehand, but failed to do so.

“On the first day of the meeting, Ms. Knight called the Director of Fiscal Services and required her to drop what she was doing to register Ms. Knight,” states the censure resolution. “During the workshop, Ms. Knight conducted herself in a fashion that was unbecoming of a board member, by attempting to abuse her office as a board member and obtain attendance to the event by asserting that she should be allowed to enroll in the event outside of timelines because she was a board member of the district.”
At the workshop, according to the censure resolution, “Ms. Knight made a racially insensitive comment in front of all attendees about ‘... knowing what it is like to be a black person because she was a punk rocker.’”

Things got weirder on the second day of the workshop.

Another board member, who was not registered for the event, showed up and was turned away. This apparently upset Knight.
“Ms. Knight went into the lobby and loudly cried and could not be calmed down,” states the resolution. “A district staff member took Ms. Knight into the parking lot so that the meeting would not be further interrupted by Ms. Knight’s loud cries, and also called the superintendent requesting guidance on how to handle the situation.”
Knight was asked to not return to the workshop until she was able to control herself. But Knight returned, and things didn’t go well.
“Ms. Knight returned to the meeting and sat next to the presenter,” states the censure resolution. “Ms. Knight comported herself disrespectfully by demonstratively rolling her eyes during the presentation, smirking, making sarcastic comments, challenging a facilitator on points he was making, taking out the evaluation form in a highly visible fashion and writing at length in an exaggerated fashion, although there remained approximately two hours before the presentation would be over.”
Multiple attendees at the event complained to the district about Knight’s behavior.

Apparently, for district staff, Knight is also a royal pain in the ass. According to the censure resolution, Knight has contacted staff to reschedule meetings to fit her personal schedule, and has asked for materials before they were ready. Her requests are such that they are “disruptive to school business.”

Board members and three different superintendents have devoted numerous hours to trying to get Knight to stop violating board policies, but to no avail.

The full censure resolution is available here:Item 7.8 Censure

The district oversees Arcata,  McKinleyville, Pacific Coast, Tsurai and Six Rivers Charter high schools, as well as the NH Community Day School, and the Riverbend Education Program.


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