Board reinstates former principal as teacher

Former Sumner Elementary School Principal Frank D’Emilio will continue his employment with the Claremont Unified School District, returning to a Claremont school as a classroom teacher in the 2012-2013 school year.

This announcement—made at a special school board meeting called on Wednesday, May 30—was a reversal of the CUSD board of education’s earlier decision at a May 3 school board meeting to dismiss Mr. D’Emilio from the district entirely.

“The board believes you have much to offer to our future students,” CUSD board president Jeff Stark said, addressing Mr. D’Emilio publicly after nearly 2 hours of closed-session deliberation. “I know it has been a stressful period for you and your family. Welcome home.” 

Mr. D’Emilio’s dismissal stemmed from a situation in which 2 female students, ages 7 and 8, reportedly engaged in activity that was sexual in nature. After learning of several inappropriate incidents that took place while her daughter was at school, the 8-year-old’s mother contacted the Department of Children and Family Services and was told to notify her daughter’s principal. Once notified of a case of abuse, it’s a school administrator’s sworn duty to report the incident to the DCFS.

Given the young age of the students in question, Mr. D’Emilio did not view the matter as abuse, opting to handle the matter internally. When pressed by the girl’s mother, a teacher and district representatives as to whether he had reported the occurrences to the DCFS, Mr. D’Emilio claimed he had done so. He later admitted to the district he had not discussed the case with officials.

In a written defense, Mr. D’Emilio apologized to the district for his lack of forthrightness, tendering his resignation as Sumner principal but asking to be allowed to teach in the district. When the board refused his resignation, instead terminating his employment, the community was shocked and galvanized.

A crowd packed into the May 18 school board meeting to show support for Mr. D’Emilio, who is widely beloved in Claremont for his contributions not only as a CUSD principal, but for his past teaching career and community involvement.

The support also went virtual and viral when a Facebook group was created by supporters. As of Wednesday, May 30, the group had garnered 1500 members, many of whom created celebratory posts as word of the school board’s latest decision spread.

“Frank, you have always been an awesome teacher and advocate for our children. We feel so thankful for this news. Congratulations to our entire community!” wrote group member Tracy Wilson Meury.

Mr. D’Emilio says he’s been greatly touched by the widespread support. He emphasized plans to work hard to merit the community show of approval and the second chance given him by the board.

“I realize this process has strained relationships. My sincere hope is that I can heal these relationships,” Mr. D’Emilio said.

Judy Kingsley, the mother of twin boys, took a moment during the public comment period at the start of the meeting to say that her trust in Mr. D’Emilio’s judgment has, indeed, been shaken.

“What concerns me most is that he lied—not once, not twice, not just verbally, but in writing and in email correspondence. He lied to a parent,” she said.

Ms. Kingsley, who said she has lived in Claremont for 4 years, has certainly taken notice of the outpouring of support. But also said she wouldn’t feel comfortable having Mr. D’Emilio as one of her children’s teachers.

“He seems like a very nice man who has done some good things. [But] I care deeply about truthfulness.”

Another speaker, Victoria Shea, expressed her reservations about other players in the recent controversy. Ms. Shea said she sensed that lawyers, both those representing Mr. D’Emilio and those consulted by the district, rushed the decision-making process leading to the former administrator’s dismissal.

“Shame on them,” she said.

The local newspaper also showed undue haste, Ms. Shea said, initially reporting about the situation in a way that served to drum up anger with the board while not taking the time to report about the seriousness of Mr. D’Emilio’s actions.

Mr. D’Emilio expressed it was important for him to publicly admit to his failures. The seriousness of the occurrences between the students did not come to his attention initially, he said. Nonetheless, he should have reported the instances to the DCFS, he said, allowing people who are experts on potential abuse to weigh in on the case. He also emphasized that he regretted his dealings with those within CUSD on the matter.

“I want to apologize once more for not being truthful, in particular with a teacher, a parent and the district,” he said. “There was no excuse for that. I will do what I can to gain their trust again.”

According to the board president—who said he would have preferred that this case, as a personnel issue, be mulled over in a private process throughout—Mr. D’Emilio has already begun the trust-building process.

“I believe it was courageous what you did,” Mr. Stark said, referring to Mr. D’Emilio’s choice to own up to his shortcomings and directly apologize to the some 30 people who showed up to Wednesday’s afternoon board meeting.

“No one should be judged by their mistakes,” he said. “We should all be judged by how we correct those mistakes.”

For some people, there are still questions why the board decided to hire a private investigator on the recommendation of their attorneys. What could have been a more private personnel matter quickly became public. The investigation was instantly questioned on the methods used and accuracy of the report. The question of impartiality became an issue during the interview process, where even teachers felt threatened.

Next year, his 25th with CUSD, Mr. D’Emilio will return to teaching after 7 years as an administrator, during which time he says he has missed being in the classroom.

“I’m ready to get back to work,” Mr. D’Emilio said.

Mr. D’Emilio’s wife, Catherine, is relieved that her husband—who she says has shown remarkable strength during this ordeal–will be able to do so. She recognized the community’s show of support could have tipped the balance in favor of her husband’s reinstatement.

She said the past weeks and months have taught her an addendum to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

“It takes a village to get your job back,” she said.

—Sarah Torribio






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