The lobby of the San Dieguito Union High School District office. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz
The lobby of the San Dieguito Union High School District office. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward made comments last week linking the academic success of Asian students to wealth.

James-Ward made the comments during a diversity, equity and inclusion training session on April 11. She was responding to Board Trustee Michael Allman’s question about why Asian students do so well in school during a discussion about grade data. 

“We have an influx of Asians from China, and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy,” James-Ward said during the training. “You cannot come to America and buy a house for $2 million unless you have money.” 

“We had a large influx of Chinese families moving in, sight unseen, into our homes, into the community, and that requires money; the whole family comes — grandparents, parents, and the grandparents are there to support the kids at home … Whereas in some of our Latinx communities, they don’t have that type of money, parents are working two jobs. They’re working from sunup to sundown,” she continued. 

An anonymous user posted a three-minute video of her comments on YouTube on April 16, which immediately sparked criticism from her colleagues and district parents.

The district board heard more than three hours of public comments during a meeting on Wednesday night where speakers expressed outrage, saying she was reinforcing stereotypes about Asian Americans and pitting people of color against each other. 

Many parents and residents called for her resignation or firing. In a closed session after the meeting, the board voted 3-1 to place James-Ward on administrative leave. Board Trustee Katrina Young was the single no vote. 

James-Ward issued an apology letter to the district’s families last week: 

“I should have slowed down when making the comments which did not provide the true complexities of student success and challenges, stereotyped a community, and caused harm,” she said. “I apologize for the harm caused to any of our students, parents, and members of our community.” 

The district and James-Ward declined to comment. 

Board Trustee Mossy Retires 

Around the same time as James-Ward’s controversial comments, Board Trustee Melisse Mossy announced her resignation from the district board. She said her decision was mostly due to her colleagues’ inability to see eye-to-eye, which often put her in a difficult position. 

“I did find myself, you know, between two very different points of view, which I don’t mind listening to different points of view, but it’s really hard when they wouldn’t listen to each other’s points of view as well,” Mossy told Voice of San Diego. “And that’s not to be negative against them… the times we could work together were the most rewarding times of my tenure.” 

Mossy was often the target of criticism from community members and parents of the district. She described receiving threatening emails and text messages. At a recent meeting, she saw someone in the audience use their hand to make a motion of shooting themselves in the head while she was speaking. Another person got up and danced around, making mocking gestures while she spoke. 

Voice of San Diego has previously reported that women candidates and officeholders often become the targets of threats and harassment, especially through social media. 

“Being in the middle, you don’t really have a chance for people to be 100 percent behind you, because if you lean to be independent at any given time, 50 percent of the people won’t be in agreement,” Mossy said. “A lot of people painted me as a very conservative person, but then, conservative people, when I didn’t vote to go against the mask mandate, just really attacked me.” 

She added that she looks forward to the positive impact that her colleagues will continue to make for the district’s students and staff. 

Mossy was elected to the board in 2018. Her term was set to expire this fall. 

Tigist Layne

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at

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  1. Re: San Dieguito Superintendant put on leave – looking at the comments she made, I find it obvious that household wealth translates into the ability for students to do better academically, irrespective of household race or ethnicity. It seems that the community response and Board action are overkill, and ignoring the reality of wealth inequality and its effect on perpetuating inequity.

    1. Time to put her progressive agenda on hold. I do not want my kids to be taught about all this Marxist “equity” gibberish.

  2. Whatever happened to having an open dialogue and letting someone know you don’t agree with their views before demanding they be fired or sanctioned?

    This is how people start living in silos, stop wanting to share their thoughts and getting involved in their community.

    Life is a learning experience.

  3. It’s interesting that no one is criticizing Trustee Allman for asking the question using the phrasing he chose. “What contributes to students achieving good grades?” could have led to a broader discussion rather than narrowing it to a group of students using only one characteristic (ethnicity).

    1. Why should he be criticized? He asked a question that comes from data showing East Asians disproportionately do well in school. If the statistics bother you, then we can’t change that.

      1. I appreciate your thoughts, Darryl. A lot of the subtext is missing sometimes when you are not close to either of the racial groups. Asians have been used in a narrative that all minorities could do well if they would so choose. I think James-Ward panicked and spewed racial bias that she didn’t know she had. Just my guess and my take. I am with Marybeth that a question phrased differently could have been more productive. I wish the people in that room would stop these stupid studies and help the kids individually. I would be livid if that is how they use my kids racial data.

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