CUSD Board, angry parents call for Llanusa’s resignation

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Four fifths of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education and several angry parents are calling for the resignation of Board President Steven Llanusa, citing widely reported allegations of misconduct at a recent holiday party at his home that included shirtless adult male entertainers and underage Claremont High students.

Photos from the Saturday, December 3 party at Llanusa’s north Claremont home in the Claraboya district show shirtless men flexing their muscles and mugging for the camera, while members of the Claremont High School Choir — who were hired by Llanusa to perform at the event — are nearby.

“We are appalled by the allegations, which are understandably causing distraction, disruption and pain, as expressed in community members’ messages to the Board and Superintendent,” wrote the CUSD Board in a statement released Friday afternoon, about two hours after adjourning a public meeting at the district offices that included heated comments from parents of some of the choir members. “Though the board cannot require Mr. Llanusa’s resignation, we encourage him to do so in order to begin the process of healing and returning our focus to students and their well-being.”

CUSD Board of Education President Steven Llanusa. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

The statement was signed by CUSD Board Vice President Kathy Archer, clerk Bob Fass, and members Kathryn Dunn and Richard O’Neill. Llanusa was not present at the 1 p.m. Friday meeting at the CUSD offices on San Jose Avenue.

Nicole Ouellette, a parent of a CHS Chamber Singer, and president of the CHS Chorus Boosters since 2020, said she voted for Llanusa in the November 8 election but has since reevaluated that stance.

“We have zero confidence in his decision-making, and in his ability to represent our district as a member of the school board,” Ouellette said. “I ask for Mr. Llanusa’s resignation from the school board to allow us to elect an individual with integrity who takes seriously the oath to serve the students and educators of CUSD, and to always keep the best interests of our students their top priority.”

Gabriel Lozano, a parent of a CHS Choir member, was among several people who voiced concerns at the Friday meeting of the Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education about a recent party at Board President Steven Llanusa’s home. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

Friday’s meeting — which also included the swearing in of newly elected board members Dunn and O’Neill — was well attended by parents looking to voice their concerns about the Llanusa allegations, and by several members of the broadcast and print media.

The award-winning Claremont High School Choir, led by Joel Wilson, is often hired to perform at private events, which serve as fundraisers for the group’s year-end trip. This year they are scheduled to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Sabrina Ho, a parent of a CHS Chamber Singer who sang at the party, said normal protocol for these events is student singers arrive 10 minutes prior to the event, perform for about 30 minutes, and are then escorted out. Permission slips are sent home to each parent with the date, location, and supervising staff member(s) who will be in attendance at the event.

“As a parent, I signed this permission slip confidently, with full knowledge that Mr. Llanusa was a supervising staff member present on December third,” Ho said. She added her child reported the group did not begin their performance until more than an hour after arriving, “and were offered alcohol by party guests among inappropriately dressed adult entertainers.”

After the party ended Llanusa offered choir members extra money for their trip if they would stay and help clean up, Ho said. “My 16-year-old son stayed in Mr. Llanusa’s home at his invitation for almost four hours. My son did not ask if he should or could leave, because the CUSD School Board member in charge asked him to stay.

“It is a gross misuse of power from an educational leader.”

“I’m truly disgusted with Mr. Llanusa’s behavior,” echoed Gabriel Lozano, a parent of a CHS Choir member who also spoke at Friday’s meeting. “The school board and CUSD … the implied trust that we have in all of you is no different than we have with police, doctor physicians, when they’re with them, as our children were with Mr. Llanusa on December third.”

CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser administers the oath of office to former COURIER editor and new CUSD Board member Kathryn Dunn on Friday. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

Some speakers asked that the district put Llanusa on administrative leave, and/or the board fire him or otherwise compel his resignation. In a rare move, Elsasser asked the district’s legal counsel, Todd Robbins, to speak to the legal aspects of such requests.

Robbins said these actions are not within the district’s power in this instance.

“A board member is not an employee of the school district,” Robbins said. “They’re an elected official. The method to remove a board member from office is through the recall process that California provides.” Robbins added since Llanusa is not a CUSD employee, he could not be placed on administrative leave.

Board Vice President Kathy Archer also took the rare step of addressing questions from the audience at the meeting, stating for the record that no other current or past board members were present at the party.

Llanusa, reached via text Friday morning, said “No comment,” before following up with another text a few minutes later stating, “On the advice of legal counsel I can not [sic] make any comments.”

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser declined to comment, also citing advise from counsel. Elsasser later released this statement:

“The District was notified of allegations of inappropriate conduct by adults toward a few of our high school choir students who were performing at an off-site, private party last Saturday evening, and law enforcement and the District are currently investigating the matter.  I assure our school community that we are taking these allegations extremely seriously, which prompted us to immediately engage the Claremont Police Department who is now actively investigating this concerning situation.  The District and school administration have taken steps to support and protect our students directly impacted by this incident, and we will continue to provide necessary supports. Additionally, we have been in touch with the students’ families to ensure they are aware of our actions to investigate the matter. Our paramount priority is to provide a safe and stable environment for all our students to learn and participate in extracurricular activities, and to this point, I want the Claremont school community to be assured that we will not condone any inappropriate behavior by adults toward our students.”

Newly elected member Richard O’Neill listens to public comment Friday at the CUSD Board of Education meeting. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

Claremont resident Deborah Kekone, the mother of two, a Chaparral Elementary School sixth grader and a 2019 CHS grad, said it’s time for Llanusa, who was reelected November 8 and has been on the board for 17 years, to step down.

“I think it’s in the best interest of everyone involved in our community that Steven resigns from the school board,” Kekone said. “I feel it will allow people to heal. It will allow people to move on. I will allow people to know that he’s taking some responsibility for what happened at the party, and it will allow everyone to move forward. If he doesn’t resign, it doesn’t show that he has the district’s or the community’s best interests at heart.”

It’s well known Llanusa has hosted annual holiday parties at his home for the past several years.

“He always has … adult performers there dressed like that as eye candy at the party,” Kekone said. “They post pictures every single year of the party. The party wasn’t any different than any other party he’s ever had, it’s just that he decided this time to bring kids and expose them to all kinds of things that their parents were not aware of.”

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