Arcata High School
Four members of the Northern Humboldt Union School board voted to publicly reprimand fellow trustee Jennifer Knight last night, saying her unacceptable behavior over the last two years left them with no other choice.
Board President Colleen Toste told Knight that if she had violated one board policy or bylaw here or there perhaps that could be apologized away, but she has instead continued a pattern of unbecoming conduct despite interventions from other trustees, administrators and staff.
“I can’t allow our district to continue this way,” Toste said.
The five-page censure resolution gave detailed examples of how Knight’s behavior allegedly violated 10 board bylaws and policies, including the disrespectful treatment of parents and staff as well as using her position to propel a complaint her sister filed last year over the Arcata High basketball team’s selection process.
The issue culminated during an October board meeting when Knight pulled the rehiring of Arcata’s basketball coaches from a routine hiring list and later disparaged a parent volunteer for what Knight described as “character assassination” because of a personal email the parent sent last year noting concerns raised about the grievance filed by Knight's sister.
Last night, Knight vacillated between apologizing and maintaining she was being treated unfairly as she vehemently opposed the censure, repeatedly saying that she had not been afforded legal counsel despite the purely symbolic nature of the board action.
As her arguments reached a febrile pitch, Knight called the resolution “a slanderous document” and said the board was “acting like judge, jury and executioner,” noting that being emotional doesn’t mean she’s not “rational.”
At other times, Knight appeared calm as she continued to insist that her actions have been misunderstood or misconstrued, saying she was she was just trying to make sure policies and procedures were followed, including issues around her sister’s complaint. She also apologized for any appearance of impropriety.
“We can move forward,” Knight said. “I hear what people are saying but I also feel that some of the concerns that are being expressed are being taken out of context.”
While noting several times that she disagreed with items outlined in the censure, Knight said the meeting “was not the forum” to go through the document with a “fine-tooth comb” despite Superintendent Roger Macdonald’s encouragement that she should.
Macdonald said the resolution was written by the district’s attorney based on a compilation of information provided by trustees and staff, adding there were more things that could have been added.
“This is a way to help you see that your behavior is so far out of bounds,” Macdonald said to Knight.
About two dozen people attended the meeting with the three public speakers all taking issue with Knight’s conduct.
Two, along with several board members during their discussion, also acknowledged that Knight was passionate, often asked compelling questions and brought good ideas to the table, but said her other actions overshadowed those positive notes.
Arcata English teacher JoAnn Moore was more blunt.
“You need to do the right thing, Jennifer. …. You need to resign,” she said.
Another board member, Brian Lovell, agreed. He told Knight that after her actions at the Oct. 10 meeting, he will be “leery” about anything she has to say.
“I have to say, Jennifer, I lost my trust in you that night,” he told her.
Trustee Dana Silvernale, who acknowledged that she had a friendship with Knight outside of the board, said she wished there was a more “compassionate” way to handle the situation, like restorative justice.
Silvernale also noted that she has tried to talk with Knight “numerous times about her emotional issues” and found most of what was in the censure resolution to be accurate.
Meanwhile, the rumors of a possible recall effort continue to swirl around the district.
For his part, the superintendent noted that he hopes to see the district move forward with staff now being allowed to focus their attention on what’s most important — the students.
“I know that we can heal from this and that’s is something that we need to do,” Macdonald said at the end of the meeting.