Santa Clara County Board of Education Censures Trustee Joseph Di Salvo in Split Vote

The Santa Clara County Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday night to censure trustee Joseph Di Salvo after an independent investigation determined that he engaged in gender-based harassment.

In January, two board members and two office of education employees filed complaints against Di Salvo for his behavior.

The third-party investigator found that Di Salvo made negative, critical, disrespectful, dismissive, demeaning and heated comments … when challenging women whom he perceived were not doing what he wanted.

The investigator also found that he did not engage in similar behavior toward men.

The censure is considered a condemnation of Di Salvo’s behavior, as well as an acknowledgment that his conduct is unacceptable, unprofessional and a violation of the board bylaws.” Di Salvo will also have to undergo gender bias training.

Board of Ed President Claudia Rossi, Vice President Kathleen King and trustees Rosemary Kamei and Peter Ortiz voted for the censure, while trustees Anna Song, Grace Mah and Di Salvo voted against it.

During the meeting, Di Salvo defended himself by acknowledging that he has engaged in heated debates in the past, but apologized if comments were worded too harshly. He added that the investigation lacked evidence and was a political ploy to distract from other important school issues and his re-election campaign.

Joseph Di Salvo

Citing these disagreements out of context is inappropriate, he said. The timing of this investigation is dubious at best. This memo is being acted on with less than a week for me to review the claims and just four months prior to election day.

Di Salvo also argued that he only had one week to review the claims and that his lawyer was unable to attend the board meeting. The office of education’s legal counsel, however, noted that Di Salvo was interviewed twice during the investigation and that his lawyer didn’t have the right to interject into a board discussion.

Ortiz, who is the only other man on the board, said that while he has no doubt that his colleague cares about students, the board can’t overlook the methods in how people talk to each other.

He also noted that the county office should have taken previous action against Di Salvo.

I myself as a man of color, I would never think to behave in certain ways on this board and that’s because some privileges just haven’t been given to me, Ortiz said. I know that the second I talk to someone a certain way I will be crucified by the public.

Kamei also acknowledged Di Salvo’s passion for students and education.

It is not to attack trustee Di Salvo, she said. Trustee Di Salvo feels very strongly about his positions and he wants to serve the students and the community…This is about what is this board going to do about those women that stepped forward and said I feel this way and the investigators found that the behavior is truly unbecoming of an elected official.

Mah, however, called the censure too heavy of a hammer  and claimed that the report didn’t describe any evidence of harassment.

I certainly respect women on the staff and women on the board who have raised concerns,” Mah said. I believe it is important to address these types of issues. So I’m not saying we don’t address it, but I’m saying that we need to make sure and find [another] way since this was an insufficient timeline for review and response and the political nature of this [is] inappropriate.

Wednesday night’s vote marked the first time in history that the board of education has censured one of its members.

Di Salvo has served on the board since 2008 and is up for re-election in November. His district represents a majority of San Jose Unified and portions of Oak Grove and East Side Union High school districts.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

10 Comments

  1. Can you force an elected official to do something ? If it was me then I would tell the rest of the board to stuff it. If you are an elected official then the only way to get you out of office might be to recall you.

  2. Di Salvo might have passion about students and education. However, his lack of diplomacy while interacting with some has placed him in similar situations. When he was principal of a Gilroy Jr. High, he faced similar complaints from some parents. He was a principal at the school for a very short time. It is time addresses his communication issues and improve them! He should also consider how his biases contribute to this struggle.

  3. I have often believed in the past that these accusations of sexism against Di Salvo were mere power ploys by those on the board who oppose him on grounds of policy (something similar was done to Jim Zito), but the fact that the third party investigator concluded differently is certainly interesting. I feel like I’m going to be on the fence about this until I can look at the evidence it used to draw its conclusion. Does anyone know where/if it’s available to the public?

  4. How about teaching the kids and forget the rest of this BS? When are they going to open the schools and make up for the dead spring semester?

    If your kids was average or struggling, the county has screwed them over beyond belief and its just a matter of time before they shut it down again? You think your kids will catchup with online classes?

  5. — The third-party investigator found that Di Salvo made “negative, critical, disrespectful, dismissive, demeaning and heated comments … when challenging women whom he perceived were not doing what he wanted.” —

    After a thorough and, no doubt, pricey investigation it appears that four of Mr. Di Salvo’s fellow board members disapproved of his conduct. This raises some questions.

    1. Did the dissenting board members approve of his conduct, consider it quirky but not offensive, or did they just decline to disapprove of it?
    2. What are we to make by the investigator’s words, whom he perceived were not doing what he wanted? How did the investigator determine Di Salvo’s perceptions? Did he inform the investigator of them, and if so, had the unmet expectations involved been reasonable? Had the offended parties been negligent in their duties, obstinate, or otherwise unreasonable? What was it Di Salvo wanted them to do that they were not doing?
    3. Why is the gender of the complainants pertinent? If all the complainants were males would their gender have been an issue; would their complaints have been deemed deserving of a hearing? Are the sensitivities of women in the workplace afforded unique protection or is it something they simply claim? If the former, then the gender specific, kid glove rules of conduct need to be formalized so everyone can know how to safely tiptoe through the workplace; however, if the latter, then perhaps de-sensitivity training is in order.

    Negative and critical comments can be essential to getting things done in the workplace, so absent context, what are we to make of this charge? To be shown disrespect or be demeaned lies in the eye of the beholder. Being dismissive is a natural reaction to objectionable conduct or unsatisfactory performance (half the population has been dismissive of the president for four years). Given the board’s split on this issue, and the fact the complainants were guilty of filing false allegations of race-related mistreatment, how can the public possibly conclude Mr. Di Salvo did anything wrong?

  6. This “independent” investigator is anything but independent, I’m sure. This happened nearly 3 years ago, but just now being investigated? Election season has something to do with this, no doubt. Allegations are always remembered, seldom does the truth carry as much weight. Good luck to this man who they obviously want off the board.

  7. Thank you to the SCCBOE for standing up to Joe Di Salvo and evening the power imbalance between him and the female employees by bringing in a neutral, third party expert to review their claims and his story. The evaluator’s report found abusive behavior by Mr Di Salvo, so it was completely appropriate for him to be censured by the SCCBOE. Note that despite the split vote, dissenting Trustees Mah and Song do not actually defend Mr Di Salvo’s conduct or character — they only say the process was “rushed” despite Mr Di Salvo having had the chance to talk twice with the evaluator, and the county attorney saying the evaluation was high quality. Now that the women’s claims have been vindicated by both the expert evaluator and the SCCBOE, and Mr Di Salvo has been publicly censured, let’s hope that Mr Di Salvo will change his ways and treat women right.

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