POWAY, Calif. — The Poway Unified School Board held a special board meeting Wednesday to discuss accusations against their superintendent, Marian Kim Phelps. Parents and students are calling for accountability following an event in May.
FOX 5 heard from parents, students and staff about an issue involving the Del Norte High softball team, which has been escalating over the past six months.
Public comments to the board stressed how the issue has divided players on the team and led to a lot of hurt feelings.
The superintendent said she urges people to seek the truth and facts.
Phelps addressed the accusations that she threatened and harassed Del Norte High School softball players.
“The only stories out there are the lies and the misinformation,” said Phelps.
The claims stem from a softball banquet in May. At a Nov. 9 board meeting, our reporting partners with the San Diego Union-Tribune reported players, parents and coaches claimed Phelps texted students after the ceremony.
The UT reported that the public comments claim Phelps accused teammates of not clapping for her daughter enough, followed by threats of not participating in graduations.
During Wednesday’s special meeting, students and parents still claim the board is brushing off their allegations.
One parent told the board on Wednesday, “The number of emails, the parents that have come before you the formal complaints, and there is more coming, demand that you take action and investigate this properly.”
“(The) Board has not ignored this matter, but is bound by privacy laws that do not allow us to make public statements regarding, specific students or employee matters,” said Dr. Darshana Patel, the Poway Unified School Board president.
The superintendent denies all allegations.
“I’ve never talked to student making threats of them not graduating — all of those accusations are completely false and fabricated,” Phelps said.
Phelp’s daughter, Jessica, fought back tears to defend her. She said the softball program is the issue.
“Rather this is about having to endure being bullied, being yelled at in front of my teammates, and being publicly humiliated and tormented for months leading up to and including the softball banquet,” said Jessica.
The district confirmed Del Norte investigated Jessica’s claim of bullying.
“This includes interviews with many students about what they have witnessed. All of my experiences with bullying were validated,” Jessica said.
Wednesday’s special meeting is the third time the board discussed parents’ claims about Phelps. The board said they have reviewed hundreds of pages of witness statements and documents.
The board called the claims misinformed but decided to hire an outside consultant to investigate the softball program at Del Norte Softball program, with hopes of restoring trust in the coaches and program.
“This was more of an issue of how you protect any student in the district who is being bullied for many several months,” Phelps said. “But even then I feel like even as a mom, I couldn’t even be a mom, so my daughter suffered less rights than another parent in the district would have.”
At Wednesday’s special board meeting, the Board released the following statement:
“The Poway Unified School District Board of Education is aware that some members of the public are making misinformed claims about student and employee conduct involving the Del Norte High School softball program. The Board has not ignored this matter but is bound by privacy laws that do not allow us to make public statements regarding specific student or employee matters. The Board has now met three times regarding this matter, and reviewed hundreds of pages of witness statements and supporting documents related to the Del Norte administration’s investigation of and issues related to the Del Norte softball program. The Board thoroughly considered the existing evidence on this matter and took action within the purview of our authority regarding employee conduct. Our priority in classrooms and in school extracurricular activities is to provide an environment where all students can have a positive experience. The challenges that have been revealed within the Del Norte softball program have led the Board to initiate a formal, independent investigation to ensure that all students feel safe and supported.”
Phelps said, “I am grateful to the board for their thorough review, keeping a clear focus on students, and responding to our students’ pleas to intervene. In my 32 years in education, I have always worked passionately to protect the safety and well-being of the children we serve. My leadership, actions, and decisions are guided by a high level of ethics and integrity, and I strive to follow the principles and guidelines that govern our work. As educators and adults, we are all held to a higher standard, which often makes us targets for political or other motivations. We must stay true to our vision and mission, as well as protecting and serving our 35,000 students,”