A group of Palo Alto parents concerned about school board candidate Kathy Jordan's temperament, in particular her interactions with student-journalists at Palo Alto High School, have formed a last-minute campaign committee in opposition to her candidacy.
The Committee Opposing Jordan for School Board 2018 paid for a full-page advertisement in the Nov. 2 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly stating that Jordan, who is a Paly parent, made students at The Campanile feel "'attacked,' 'threatened,' and harassed' in a series of repeated direct contacts and interactions regarding the newspaper's coverage of a student sexual-assault case.
The campaign committee's treasurer is Lynn Brown, whose three children have attended Palo Alto Unified schools. In an email Thursday, Brown said she knows "Paly students to be bright and fair, and they deserve to be heard in the election of the folks who will direct their education." She declined to answer further questions.
Current school board member Todd Collins said he lent $2,668 to the campaign committee to pay for the advertisement.
In an email, Jordan called the ad an "attempt to smear" her.
"These actions are an attempt by the status quo to silence a school board candidate who stood up for a 14-year-old student sexual-assault victim," Jordan wrote, referring to her public opposition over the past year-plus to the district's and Paly's handling of this and another sexual-assault case. (Among her campaign focuses is increased compliance and oversight of Title IX cases.)
Part of that advocacy included Jordan's public criticism of The Campanile writers and teacher-adviser Esther Wojcicki for inaccurately reporting in September 2017 that the alleged on-campus sexual assault of the female freshman by a male junior "was subsequently determined to be consensual."
In order to get The Campanile to correct its story, Jordan sent numerous detailed, lengthy emails over the course of four weeks to the staff, who later described her messages as "hostile" and taking an "aggressive tone." An Oct. 7, 2017, email that Jordan sent at 3 a.m., published by The Campanile last month, includes a dictionary definition of libel and cites from board policy and state law on student freedom of speech.
"Please print the retraction immediately," Jordan wrote. "I will also be separately emailing the school board to request/demand that an email be sent to the Paly community that would receive the printed version of the Campanile with the language I sent you all as potential language for an apology and retraction."
The students' concerns escalated to the point that the Paly administration hired a First Amendment lawyer to help former Assistant Principal Janice Chen write a letter requesting Jordan cease any direct contact with individual students. Jordan complied, according to The Campanile.
When asked Thursday if she stands by her past actions with the students, Jordan said that she "could have realized earlier that the students didn't have access to accurate information; that the adults were not providing them with that information."
"Of course it's important how they felt; at the same time it's relevant and important what the 14-year-old student and her family felt. It's also important how other student victims would feel about coming forward after The Campanile reported that that incident was 'consensual,'" Jordan said.
In an Oct. 4 editorial, The Campanile's editorial board urged voters not to support Jordan, writing: "We believe her inappropriate and unacceptable conduct with students and poor conflict resolution skills make her unfit to be a board member."
In an interview with the Weekly, Collins said he agrees. He felt that Jordan's interactions with The Campanile aren't widely known and wants the community to be informed before casting their votes on Tuesday, Election Day.
His own concern "boil(s) down to temperament and ability to work effectively with others."
He said he was contacted this weekend by community members, including the parents of Campanile staffers, who "were concerned about the interactions of Kathy Jordan with both faculty and the students at the school and felt, based on their own personal experience from last year, that there were serious problems with the way she had interacted with people that really in their view ... went to her fitness as being a school board member."
Collins said he agrees with Jordan's criticisms of The Campanile's coverage of the October 2016 sexual-assault report and communicated his own concerns to district administrators rather than the students or their adviser.
He said the advertisement, running just four days before Election Day, was prompted by the latest campaign finance disclosures that show Jordan has raised a total of about $52,000 to date, including $250 she loaned her own campaign.
"If someone is really doing that much to get their name out there and most voters don't have this very important information then it makes sense to try to get it into their hands," Todd Collins, school board member, said.
Jordan is vying against five candidates for two open seats on the Board of Education: special-education advocate Stacey Ashlund, after-school program director Chris Boyd, incumbent Ken Dauber, attorney Shounak Dharap and recent Paly graduate Alex Scharf.
For complete 2018 election information, check out the Palo Alto voters' guide.