The Santa Clara County Board of Education is expected to censure board member Joseph Di Salvo Wednesday after investigators found he engaged in sexist behavior.
Two county employees and two board members filed complaints against Di Salvo in January, saying he engaged in gender and racial harassment. An independent investigator, hired by Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan, found Di Salvo demeaned some women, but not that he racially harassed people.
“Board Member Di Salvo’s individual behavior at board meetings consisted of making negative, critical, disrespectful, dismissive, demeaning and heated comments and behavior when challenging women who he perceived were not doing what he wanted,” the resolution stated.
But Di Salvo told Fly the investigation lacked evidence, is aimed to harm his re-election campaign and is an effort “to distract voters from the important issues affecting students.”
“I have always sought to treat staff and fellow board members with respect and sincere admiration for the work they do,” he said. “The Board faces many contentious decisions and I have engaged in heated debates, apologizing if comments were worded too harshly.”
Di Salvo gave the investigators a similar statement, but it apparently wasn’t enough to convince them as the report stated that his behavior went “beyond professional discourse, and instead represents a subtle bias against women who disagree with or challenge him.”
Board member Claudia Rossi told Fly that DiSalvo’s behavior “created a very difficult working environment” at times.
Rossi cited a 2017 board meeting about a charter school opening where Di Salvo was argumentative. At the next meeting, his wife read an apology letter on his behalf.
“I felt a great deal of sympathy for his spouse to be in a position to make her way to a very public meeting to issue an apology on behalf of her husband,” Rossi said. “Part of the apology basically said that he was passionately advocating for his point of view. The apology seemed more of an excuse rather than a heartfelt introspective statement of wrongdoing.”
Board member Grace Mah, however, defended Di Salvo.
“For over 12 years, I have watched Joseph Di Salvo serve alongside me on the board with integrity and respect for all staff and board members, including women,” she said. “The accusations lack clear evidence and appear to be politically driven as this is arising four months before a major election.”