Censure looms for trustee – school board cites outbursts, violations

(Note: Article updated with additional quotes and edits on Nov. 19, 2017 – Ed.)

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Concerned about inappropriate comments, emotional outbursts and ongoing violations of its bylaws, the Northern Humboldt Union High School District Governing Board may censure one of its own members at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14.

Trustee Brian Gerving requested that the board consider censuring Trustee Jennifer Knight, who he accuses of violating board bylaws with regard to respectful and polite conduct, and for voting on a matter when she had a conflict of interest.

"I didn't request this because of any personal reasons or because of views that we either share or don't share," said Gerving during Monday's meeting. "Rather, I think there was conduct at our meeting last week, on Oct. 10, that was inappropriate and violated the board's bylaws and governance standards."

Knight unsuccessfully tried to get a coach removed from a district personnel list. The coach had previously cut her nephew from Arcata's basketball team, which resulted in Knight's sister, Sara Knight, filing a complaint with the district. Jennifer Knight has said she was concerned about the district's following of "policies and procedures."

"The inappropriate behavior I believe started with a single-minded focus on everything basketball related at the last meeting," Gerving said.

Board President Colleen Toste said that Knight’s behavior has been an ongoing issue and seems to be getting worse. Knight was appointed to the board two years ago.

But the final straw for some board members was the Oct. 10 meeting, during which Knight criticized a parent volunteer  who had applied to serve on the district’s Athletic Advisory Committee, which gives input regarding the district’s Athletic Handbook.

McKinleyville High School Principal Nic Collart recommended Carolyn Perkins for the committee, while Arcata High Principal Dave Navarre recommended Gregory Hall.

Both of the volunteers have children in local schools and are active volunteers.

Typically, the appointment of these volunteers to the committee would be a routine matter with little, if any, debate.

Jennifer Knight

But at the Oct. 10 meeting, Knight said she had concerns about Perkins, who she claimed had sent out an email that she objected to. Knight then proceeded to hand out copies of the private email to audience members at the meeting. Knight said the email contained falsehoods.

Knight also mentioned that her sister, Sara Knight, had filed a complaint with the district regarding her son (Jennifer Knight's nephew) getting cut from Arcata's basketball team.

Knight’s mention of her sister spurred Board President Toste to interject, “Wait a minute. Does this have something to do with your sister?”

Knight answered “This has to do with the fact that this person gave false information and character assassination.”

It turned out that a portion of the email that Knight attributed to Perkins was written by someone else.

Repeatedly during the meeting, Toste warned Knight that she may have a conflict of interest in the matter.

After Knight repeatedly raised objections to appointing the volunteer, Toste said, “This feels so inappropriate to me.”

Superintendent Roger Macdonald also questioned whether it was appropriate to criticize a volunteer.

“I’m concerned about what’s going to happen tomorrow, after we have disparaged people in this community who chose to come forward and support our schools. We had this [volunteers wanted] posted for a long time. We’ve had the first two people volunteer to be on this committee in six years,” Macdonald said.

The board ultimately voted 3-1-1  to appoint Perkins and Hall to the committee, with Knight dissenting and boardmember Dana Silvernale abstaining.

Perkins, who volunteers extensively in local athletic programs, objected to the public criticism. She told the board that her job involves being in courtrooms, but she’s never experienced anything like she did at that evening’s meeting.

“This was the most offensive public beration I’ve ever gone through, and I hope you never have to experience something comparable in your life because it was wretched,” Perkins said.

Another community member accused Knight of being a bully and blindsiding the volunteer.“We’re losing a lot of good people who don’t  want to deal with this B.S.” she said.

At Monday’s meeting, Perkins accused Knight of slander and of using her power to steamroll votes on the board. “She was a bully,” said Perkins, who received thunderous applause from the more than 100 people in attendance.

McKinleyville resident Brian Mitchell and a few others in attendance urged Knight to resign. “Let’s please restore the trust in the Board of Trustees,” Mitchell said.

“I’ll save my comments to defend myself for later,” Knight said to the board.

Knight said one of the problems was with the board not following policies and procedures.

"I apologize for any of the pain I caused anyone or for losing my cool, but had policies and procedures been properly followed we wouldn't be here tonight," Knight said.

She suggested more training. “I think this is a learning opportunity for all of us,” Knight said.

Toste also mentioned an incident that took place during a training session at the Humboldt County Office of Education.

"I was part of a truly unfortunate incident at the Humboldt County Office of Education in June, where I work," Toste said. "There was a workshop that some of my employees were conducting.... This board member [Knight] was not happy because she was a board member and she should receive special treatment and the HCOE employees were harassed. They were threatened."

" I was truly dismayed. It was unbelievable," Toste said.

During Monday's meeting, Toste said to Knight "I want to go to the fact that these emotional outbursts have continued for your term on the board. They're not getting better. They're actually getting dramatically worse. I'm worried about your decision-making for our 1,600 teenagers and our staff."

Prior to the next meeting, district staff will write up a document detailing Knight's alleged violations of district bylaws and standards for the board to consider when it votes on whether to censure Knight. The censure is simply an admonishment and would not remove Knight from office.

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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