Kevin Skelly, San Mateo Union High School District superintendent, is facing a 30-day suspension of his education credential along with two other administration members due to mismanagement claims brought by a Mills High School teacher.
Skelly; Kirk Black, district deputy superintendent of Human Resources and Student Services; and Mills High School Principal Pam Duszynski have all been offered hearings before the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing to contest a recommended credential suspension. The recommendation for Duszynski is 120 days, Skelly’s is 30 days and Black’s is 14 days.
The issue stems from a lawsuit brought by Mills High School teacher Patricia Petersen, who alleged district officials negligently disregarded her attempt to blow the whistle on abusive students, urged her to inflate grades and retaliated against her.
Petersen also took her claims to the state’s teacher credentialing agency, which maintains the authority to suspend or revoke an educator’s license. If the commission ultimately agrees with the recommendations of a committee which investigation the claims, the administrators would be sidelined for the term of the suspension.
While the investigating committee recommended the punishment, the administrators will be granted an opportunity to request the commission reconsider the matter, or ask for a hearing to challenge the matter.
Skelly said in an email officials dispute the allegations, and plan to request a hearing of the full commission. Officials previously declined to comment publicly on the issue when Petersen filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court in March.
The court documents detail a series of allegations against the district, including claims that administrators discouraged Petersen from reporting a violent student, while also attempting to sweep other issues under the rug and trying to silence her through intimidation.
“The district’s conduct was intentional and malicious and done for the purpose of causing Petersen to suffer humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress,” according to the lawsuit.
At the heart of the matter is administrators issuing a formal notice reprimanding Petersen for her conduct, claiming she behaved unprofessionally and failed to foster a supportive environment or support students.
The lawsuit claims during quarantine in 2020, Petersen was attempting to help a student pass her class so that she could graduate on time. Because the pandemic shuttered classrooms, she met the student in a park to take an exam which had been missed previously.
When administering the test on an iPad, Petersen inadvertently left a photo of the answer key on the device, according to the court documents. After the student performed well on the test, Petersen grew suspicious they had accessed the answers while taking the exam.
After arranging another time to retake the test, Petersen claimed the student attacked her and threatened to call police and report she had been sexually assaulted by the teacher. After reporting the issued to administration, the lawsuit alleged Skelly instructed Petersen to give the student a passing grade and “move on.”
When she declined to cooperate, the lawsuit alleged administrators intervened and changed the grade, allowing the student to pass.
In the aftermath of the incident, administrators reprimanded Petersen — setting off a series of correspondence between district officials and attorneys who claim the teacher is being unfairly targeted and mistreated, according to the lawsuit.
Beyond the test issue, Petersen further alleged Duszynski repeatedly urged her to disregard and forgive abusive and threatening behavior by students. Petersen also claimed she reported issues such as violent graffiti sprayed on campus, which was painted over and ignored without further investigation.
For her part, Petersen had claimed she was motivated to file the lawsuit and raise the issues because she felt obligated to shed light on a work culture she considered oppressive.
“Our community doesn’t know what is going on at Mills,” Petersen has said.
Note to readers: this article has been amended to accurately reflect Kirk Black's title.