Education Matters: The loss of Mossy
The turmoil in the San Dieguito Union High School District never ends.
We’ve seen the failed appointment of Ty Humes, the failed Michael Allman recall effort by the SDUHSD teachers union, school closures during the pandemic, mask mandates, the map fiasco, and now the decision to place Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward on administrative leave.
But of all this unrest and commotion, what feels most troublesome is the sudden resignation of former SDUHSD trustee Melisse Mossy.
Someone who’s regarded as a swing vote – an independent thinker who is beholden to no one – should be cause for celebration and not an object of contempt.
But no, Mossy was subject to the worst kind of derision and disrespect.
She was bashed mercilessly by all sides, as she repeatedly stated in her public comments, from teachers, parents and community members -- for not voting the way “they” wanted.
Her pleas for civility and understanding at numerous board meetings fell on deaf ears.
Mossy was the recipient of dozens, if not hundreds, of despicable emails, complete with ad hominem attacks on her character that went far beyond any respectful voicing of constituents’ opinions.
“From what I understand of what took place, it is disappointing that it appears that some teachers and others may have pushed Melisse to the point of resignation,” said SDUHSD Board President Mo Muir. “She strived for consensus and was truly a caring person who always tried to put the kids first.”
When the people your children grew up with, friends for decades, people you worship with, shop with, travel with, and have socialized with for years – well, when they turn on you, it can wear anyone down, even those with the thickest skin.
Mossy’s resignation was a sad sign of what decent, independent-minded public servants have had to endure these past few years, ever since public displays of abusive intolerance aimed directly at individuals have somehow become acceptable.
This is our community. Everyone has a right to disagree. Not to be Pollyanna about it, but the saying goes that you can disagree but don’t be disagreeable.
“Disagreeable” is hardly strong enough to characterize recent conduct at public meetings.
It’s difficult to know which straw it was that broke the camel’s back – perhaps just an accumulation of incidents and comments that drove Mossy to resign.
Those who want to pick sides and proclaim she resigned because of pressure to fire James-Ward, or because of pressure not to – or for any other one specific issue – are simplifying a difficult situation and are conveniently omitting the fact that she received toxic pressure from all sides over many issues.
After Mossy’s resignation, some of the same people who tormented her were proclaiming how sad it was that she resigned – and not because they had no one to pick on any more.
People need to see how their words can cause pain. They can’t send poisonous missives and then express shock and sadness over what happens as a result.
Those who attacked her for how she voted, one way or the other, and then refuse to acknowledge their contribution to the hurt they caused, should feel contrition and remorse, not shock.
When you drive someone to the end of their tolerance level, what do you expect?
It’s not only the people who say or write offensive comments, but also people around them who cheer and laugh and goad them on who share responsibility.
At the March 30 school board meeting that centered on the redistricting map, Mossy spoke eloquently about her commitment to the students of the district.
“We’re not here for money, we’re not here for power, we’re not here for prestige,” she said. “We’re here to make a difference. We’re here to support our students, we’re here to support our staff who support our students, and we’re here to bring our community together. I serve all of you and I hear you loud and clear. What you say matters to me.”
While she was giving her impassioned speech, SDUHSD Teachers Union President Duncan Brown, in the audience, put a finger to his head and mimed shooting himself, eliciting smiles and laughs from others.
In an email to me later, Brown said he had apologized directly to Mossy.
“Tensions remain high,” Brown said, “and this board majority could have eased the chaos they created by approving a redistricting process true to the intent of gentle rebalancing. Instead, they chose division.
“I regret that I gave them a reason to distract anyone from the real issues at hand … My actions were wrong and I meant my apology.”
Brown was asked twice to comment on Mossy’s resignation, but did not respond.
Deciding in haste
Also during Mossy’s speech, an audience member was called out by Mossy herself for mocking her.
In the middle of her speech, Mossy interrupted herself to address the individual, saying, “I’m so sorry Mr. Sorem, I really appreciate you being here, but your actions are distracting to me and are really kind of judging me as I’m speaking.
“So I would just be really grateful if you could just connect with me right now instead of dancing and making fun of me. I’d really appreciate that, thank you.”
Mossy later said, “He was mocking me, making faces, dancing, twirling in circles and very animated.”
This same person, a frequent public commenter at SDUHSD board meetings, spoke earlier during public comment period at that same meeting and said to SDUHSD Trustee Michael Allman, “Mr. Allman, would you mind looking up so we can see that you’re paying some attention? … Do us at least the favor of pretending like you’re listening.”
Apparently, paying attention when someone has the floor doesn’t go both ways.
It’s disappointing that James-Ward didn’t recognize that Mossy’s decision to resign may have been made in haste. Instead, she rushed and hand-delivered her resignation letter to the County Office of Education the very next morning.
An emotional decision of such import needs a 24-hour breather, a pause to allow for reconsideration and rational decision-making. Perhaps even a heartfelt discussion between trustee and superintendent would have been appropriate, to be sure there would be no regrets.
Mossy was never given the chance to reconsider. She was not afforded the opportunity to take back that sudden impulse to resign.
Before she was placed on leave, James-Ward was asked twice for comment on Mossy’s resignation but never responded.
Mossy sincerely believed that to serve as a school board member was a noble undertaking, one in which she could make a positive difference in the lives of students.
“When people write or speak to you with aggression, hate, and in a demeaning and disrespectful manner, it distracts those who serve from the most important issues at hand,” Mossy wrote to me in an email.
“In my case, it’s serving our students and the staff and families that serve those students, and ensuring the district is fortified to be as vibrant, healthy, safe, nurturing and innovative for every single student every single day.
“I felt a lot of hate from pretty much every political group … To those who sent me hate email, please know I read every email. I heard you and I cared about what you had to say. I only wish the same courtesy could have been given to me.”
About her work on the school board, she said, “I realized I wasn’t living up to the high expectations I had for myself in this role and that it was beginning to affect me physically, mentally and spiritually.
“I am forever proud of our district and to those who dedicate their lives and careers to making it a top-level, world-class educational experience.”
To students, she said, “I am grateful for our students and student board members and am sorry if the adults sometimes aren’t the best role models. The future is in your hands and I believe in you.”
Mossy’s resignation is a great loss for San Dieguito and a sad commentary on what can happen to someone who approached public service with integrity and idealism.
Opinion columnist and education writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marsha Sutton is a columnist and presents her opinion. If you disagree or agree with her opinion, we’d like to hear from you. Email your comment to email@example.com.
Column: Combines reporting, storytelling and commentary to make a point. Unlike reporters, columnists are allowed to include their opinions. Columnists in the Union-Tribune Community Press are identified clearly to set them apart from news reporters.
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