Teachers: Silicon Valley school board trustee was ‘misogynistic, abusive’
Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

    Two educators who worked under Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Joseph Di Salvo broke their silence about gender-based harassment claims against him in letters obtained by San José Spotlight.

    The women sent the letters to the county Office of Education after Di Salvo said at a July meeting that he’s treated women colleagues with respect for years, disputing a recent investigation that substantiated claims of gender-based harassments against two county staffers and board members. The board voted 4-3 last month to censure Di Salvo, leading the embattled trustee to file a federal lawsuit against the Office of Education and fellow trustees.

    The Palo Alto teachers said Di Salvo, who served as Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School principal from 2002 to 2005, had a reputation among female staff for “his ongoing pattern of misogynistic, abusive, and aggressive behavior toward women.” They said Di Salvo’s behavior made them feel humiliated, intimidated and undermined.

    “I am choosing to speak out now, based on my belief that there is evidence of a pattern to Mr. DiSalvo’s toxic behavior toward women,” one teacher wrote, “especially his targeting women who are strong, confident and willing to disagree with him.”

    San José Spotlight is withholding the names of the teachers for fear of retribution. Di Salvo told San José Spotlight that the investigation and two new complaints are baseless and “have no relevance.”

    The board discussed the new complaints at its meeting Wednesday. Trustees Anna Song and Grace Mah expressed disapproval that Board President Claudia Rossi publicly disclosed the complaints, though the letters were not shared at the meeting. Rossi and the board’s attorneys said airing out the new complaints was justified because Di Salvo might have violated board bylaws.

    Di Salvo didn’t participate in the discussion, despite being offered an opportunity to address the complaints.

    The two letters chronicled the events leading to Di Salvo’s ouster from JLS in 2005. The second educator claimed that Di Salvo “was harboring animosity and hostility” toward her after she returned from deployment following the 9/11 terrorist attack and replaced a physical education instructor Di Salvo had hired.

    “Joe’s abusive behavior, which I never saw him use toward men, made me wonder if his animosity toward me was because I was a lesbian, a woman, or a military officer?” the teacher wrote.

    After she resumed her job, Di Salvo reportedly started addressing her as “doctor” in a sarcastic tone and undermining her decisions throughout the school year, she wrote in the letter.

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    In another incident, she said Di Salvo’s administration took no action after a male teacher called her “a f—– bitch.”

    Tensions escalated toward the end of the year, she said, when Di Salvo filed a harassment complaint against her, saying that he feared for his safety because she gave him a threatening look. He listed a number of other incidents.

    “I broke down and cried,” she wrote, saying she felt ashamed, worthless and unappreciated. “I couldn’t believe Joe felt like I was threatening him.”

    The teacher said the stress triggered her PTSD from her deployments and that she “felt battered by Joe and his behavior.” Being in a war zone felt safer than working at the school with Di Salvo, she claimed.

    The other letter, signed by a JLS teacher of 20 years, corroborates the first educator’s account and cites eight other incidents where she felt Di Salvo had discriminated against women.

    One of them happened in a meeting, where he reportedly talked over a teacher and proposed a vote on whether she should keep talking. “Raise your hands if you think she should continue,” he reportedly said.

    She also said that Di Salvo screamed at her at another meeting after she asked him to return grant money she claimed was spent inappropriately. “He had never screamed at any of my male colleagues who questioned or disagreed with him,” she said.

    The teacher said Di Salvo told staff repeatedly that he “rewards loyalty.” When another female teacher told him she can’t agree with him on everything, Di Salvo told her to reapply for her position, she said.

    “I feel an obligation to come forward to share my experiences and those told to me by female colleagues,” the teacher wrote, “with the hope that Mr. Di Salvo’s pattern of abusive, misogynistic behavior will not be allowed to continue within the framework of California public education.”

    Di Salvo landed another principal job in Gilroy after his time in Palo Alto. He was elected to the county board in 2008. Despite the two new claims, many residents defended Di Salvo’s decades-long career as an educator at the Wednesday meeting.

    “Trustee Di Salvo is a very friendly person, and he fights for our low-income students,” a mother of three students in Santa Clara County said in Spanish at the meeting Wednesday. “Please consider what Trustee Di Salvo has done … for not only my sons but also thousands of children who need his help.”

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    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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