The Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) is planning on launching an independent investigation into concerns received from Roseland School District alumni regarding alleged cases of racism, inequity, favoritism and other forms of discrimination that took place in the Roseland district while HUSD new hire Amy Jones-Kerr worked as its superintendent.
The district’s plan to embark on an inquiry comes on the heels of a petition — which now has over 2,500 signatures — that calls for a transparent investigation into Jones-Kerr and the reconsideration of her position in the district following several allegations of racism occurring within the Roseland district while Jones-Kerr was the superintendent.
The petition, titled Listen to the Students of Healdsburg, was created two weeks ago by an anonymous group of students.
“I actually recently had a meeting with some of the students who were part of organizing the petition and then some parents who were concerned and at that meeting, actually shortly thereafter, got some actual accusations in paper form that were focused on the Roseland district and given those concerns we of course are going to follow up and conduct an inquiry investigation,” said HUSD Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel.
He said the investigation will be completed by an independent, third-party contractor.
“We are always going to keep the wellbeing of our students at the forefront of everything we do and we also want our students and our parents and the community in general to feel like they can trust and work with Ms. Jones-Kerr, so we will jump into this and investigate and see if there is any merit to any of the accusations and if there are we’ll follow up in the appropriate manner,” Vanden Heuvel said.
According to Vanden Heuvel, the written accusations were submitted from a former Roseland School District student who graduated several years ago.
Vanden Heuvel didn’t discuss the details and scope of the accusations but said none of them were actually accusations against Jones-Kerr.
“I will say the accusations I got were general, none of them were actual accusations against Ms. Jones-Kerr. It is my understanding that … the comments that occurred at a couple of board meetings and on social media regarding the Roseland district, none of them have been focused on her. However, they made the point that … she was an administrator of Roseland at the time, that she bears responsibility. Like I said, we’re going to be following up,” Vanden Heuvel said.
HUSD announced the hiring of Jones-Kerr on April 21 during a regular school board meeting.
Bill Halliday, the current principal of HHS, will be stepping away from his role and into retirement effective June 30.
News of the district’s selection of Jones-Kerr came as a surprise to some residents as allegations of racism, inequity, favoritism and other forms of discrimination occurring within the Roseland School District while Jones-Kerr was the district superintendent were raised by students and families. Jones-Kerr resigned from the district in November 2020 when she gave her formal resignation notice during a Nov. 18, 2020, Roseland school board meeting.
Her resignation came about a month after the allegations were raised by Roseland School District alumni and families at an October 2020 school board meeting.
Jones-Kerr told The Tribune in April that the allegations were not the reason for her departure.
Following the announcement of her appointment, two Healdsburg residents spoke up about their concerns with her appointment during the public comment section of the April 21 school board meeting.
“There are continued meetings and investigations concerning these allegations and although we may not be completely aware of the full scope and the facts, I have personally heard from Roseland parents regarding the lack of response and action that came by this former superintendent as well as other concerns,” said Lizbeth Perez, a Healdsburg resident and Corazón employee.
Perez said as a parent, a Corazón Healdsburg employee and as a member of the Healdsburg District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC), the equity work within the district must continue.
A Healdsburg resident who identified herself as Stephanie Flores also expressed concerns regarding the district’s Healdsburg High School principal choice.
“An investigation is underway regarding allegations of racism and inequity towards students in the Roseland district, which occurred under the leadership of Ms. Amy Jones-Kerr. I am concerned that the numerous allegations of what happened under her leadership in Roseland will happen in the Healdsburg district. The decision to hire her during the investigation appears rushed and this could impede the progress and efforts of community leaders to ensure racial equity within the district and the community,” Flores said during the same April school board meeting.
Concerns with Jones-Kerr also stem from a so-called employee evaluation of Jones-Kerr by the Roseland School District School Board. The alleged Roseland evaluation document was posted on the petition website after it was allegedly leaked to KBBF Radio and posted on the DACA Sonoma County Facebook page.
The Tribune reached out to the Roseland School District to confirm whether or not the document is legitimate, however, since employee evaluations are typically confidential, incoming Roseland School District Superintendent Héctor Rico said he could not comment on the matter.
“Employee evaluations are confidential. Therefore, I hope you'll understand that we cannot comment further as this is a personnel issue,” Rico said in an email.
Consequently, The Tribune was not able to verify the authenticity of the evaluation.
Vanden Heuvel also declined to comment on the supposed evaluation.
“I can say that all evaluations in every school in California and probably in the United States are confidential by law, so I do not have access to evaluations when I am hiring anybody and I don’t share evaluations when we have employees that leave to go work somewhere else, so if it is indeed an evaluation it would have been obtained illegally if it’s actually something that came from Roseland. I can’t really comment more on that,” he said.
Vanden Heuvel was able to discuss what the independent investigation into the allegations may look like. “At this point we don’t have anything formal … so it is really following up with the people who furnished the accusations and then going from there and seeing what we can find. It will be done by a third party that isn’t an employee of the school district,” he said.
Jones-Kerr said she is proud of the work she did in Roseland, but appreciates and welcomes the HUSD examination of all of the concerns being raised.
“I am proud of the work I did in Roseland. I wholeheartedly gave everything to my students, district, staff and community throughout my 24 years of service as an educator. Our work as a collaborative educational team has led to wonderful life changing opportunities for the students and families in Roseland,” Jones-Kerr said. “I appreciate and welcome the Healdsburg Unified School District to fully examine all of the concerns being raised. It is important for the students, families, staff, and community of Healdsburg to know that I am a leader they can trust and work with. I look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders in continuing the excellent work taking place at Healdsburg High School and across the district.”
HUSD School Board President Aracely Romo-Flores said the board hears the community’s concerns and is working on responding in a meaningful way.
“On behalf of the HUSD Board of Trustees, we hear the concerns, and we are responding. Our board of education and the superintendent want to do all that we can to ensure that our school community, including staff, students and families, has great confidence in the members of our team, including the new principal at Healdsburg High School. While Ms. Jones-Kerr was fully vetted during the interview and background checking process, our superintendent believes it is in the best interest of all involved to investigate the allegations shared by some members of the Roseland School District, and following that investigation, we will act on facts,” Romo-Flores said in a statement to The Tribune. “HUSD is truly committed to continuing to address issues of equity in our schools and community. To share a few highlights in this work, we are currently drafting equity and anti-racism policies to guide district decision making in the future, and have engaged with Acosta Educational Partnership and Corazón Healdsburg to incorporate ethnic studies and diverse points of view in all of our classrooms from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. We are unwavering in our commitment to serve all of our students and will continue to address systemic issues of equity in all of our schools.”
School board trustee Cristal Lopez said she is extremely proud of the HUSD students who stepped up to discuss their concerns regarding the hiring of Jones-Kerr.
Vanden Heuvel said while he doesn’t think they came to a common understanding with the students during their meeting, it was helpful to receive written accusations.
“Up until that point, we hadn’t seen anything besides what’s circulated on social media, which really just cannot be a reliable source of information when we’re conducting an inquiry. In terms of receiving something a little more concrete, yes that was productive, and it is always good to dialogue,” Vanden Huevel said. “I made it clear to students that asking questions and using their voice in a productive way, whether we agree or disagree, is always a good thing and we value that and we want them to do that. No student is ever going to receive any negative treatment as a result, so I made that really clear to them and I think they heard it, as well as parents. We want to hear from parents and we appreciate the opportunity to dialogue.”
HUSD parents and community members have also raised concerns regarding the transparency of the hiring process of Jones-Kerr.
According to Vanden Heuvel, during the interview and hiring process of any teacher, administrator or other school staff, several panels each with different stakeholders — teachers, classified staff, parents and secondary school students — conduct various rounds of interviews with candidates.
“We’ll sometimes have several rounds of interviews with different committees just so we can involve more people in the decision-making process. That said, the decision is actually made by me as superintendent and the school board. The committees are there to inform our decision, to give us recommendations and for us to hear different points of view,” Vanden Heuvel said.
When asked if the concerns regarding Jones-Kerr and the Roseland School District were known at the time of the final interview process, Vanden Heuvel said he can’t discuss what was discussed in the interview, however, he did look into some of the speculations that were circulating.
“I can’t get into what was discussed per se in the interview … Ms. Jones-Kerr resigned from Roseland in November and left her position as superintendent, we knew about that. There was speculation as to why that occurred and so there are still theories as to why that occurred, and I can tell you that I vetted that and looked into it and feel confident about why it happened. It’s confidential information that I can’t share, but through my checking I was confident that it had nothing to do with any of the allegations that had arisen around the Roseland School District and again, none of those allegations that were on social media were specific to Ms. Jones-Kerr,” Vanden Heuvel said.