School board to part ways with San Ysidro principal

The San Ysidro school board voted 3-2 Thursday night to release the principal of Smythe Elementary School after the current school year.

Joel Tapia has been absent from Smythe Elementary since Jan. 16, relocated to the school district’s office while school district administrators investigate a personnel matter.

It is unclear if he will keep working at the school district’s office until the school year is over, when his current contract ends.

The school board decision — with members Antonio Martinez and Irene Lopez voting against it — was made following dozens of comments from the public in support of Tapia.

Tapia, joined by his wife and toddler son, received a standing ovation from almost everyone in the filled auditorium at Sunset Elementary School when he arrived. Supporters cheered his name, with children running to him and embracing him.

"I feel the love," Tapia said at the start of the meeting. "I don't think I'm anybody special. I think what's special is that people stand up for what they believe in."

Tapia has found himself in similar scenarios before, either reassigned or placed on leave in two previous jobs as principal in Chula Vista and Solana Beach. Both times, he resigned.

Following the vote, Tapia said the personnel matter San Ysidro school district administrators were looking into involved his work history, which included allegations that were found to be unsubstantiated either by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing or the district's administration.

School district officials have remained tight-lipped about the personnel issue and investigation into Tapia.

Daniel Zummo, the San Ysidro School District’s human resources executive director, said reference checks are part of the hiring process, but declined to say if that was a step the San Ysidro district took before hiring Tapia.

On Thursday morning, as some parents dropped off their children for school, other parents and students stood near the entrance to the Smythe Avenue campus to rally for Tapia. They held signs that read, “We want our principal back” and “God bless you, Mr. Tapia. We are praying for your return.”

“Honestly, we’re like a family, and family sticks together,” said Noemi Jimenez, whose third- and sixth-grade sons attend Smythe. “We’re here to show that we want (Tapia) back. And even if wherever mistakes might have been made, we all make mistakes. We deserve the chance to work together and to make things happen in the right way.”

She and other parents said they also turned out to voice concerns about the district’s lack of transparency. Parents were not notified of Tapia’s relocation, a step that should have been taken “out of respect for our school and our students,” Jimenez said.

“That would have been good for all of us,” she said. “Just to give us some peace of mind, instead of wondering what happened.”

She said Tapia was relocated, “in a way, deceptively.”

Just before the school bell rang, Tapia’s supporters headed to the school district’s office on Otay Mesa Road, about a mile away. San Diego police officers escorted the group.

"We support the freedom of speech, but we encourage our kids to be at school, and that's our main concern," school district spokesman Francisco Mata said.

Jimenez said it was unfortunate some children like hers skipped classes but said it was important to turn out to support Tapia.

“It’s more important for them to stand up for what’s right and what’s good and what’s fair,” she said.

Not every parent who turned out supports Tapia.

Olga Espinoza said her son, a third-grader at Smythe, has been bullied repeatedly and that Tapia has taken few actions to protect children like hers.

“I don’t think he’s capable,” she said.

Tapia resigned as principal from the Chula Vista Elementary School District in June 2015, then from Solana Beach School District in June 2016.

In a statement, interim Superintendent Mary Willis said, in part, that “any staffing changes we make are based on what is best for students. We are working with parents to ensure they know we are listening.”

Copyright © 2018, Del Mar Times
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