Jul 14, 2022 - News

Black community leaders say racism behind Salt Lake superintendent's leave

Courtesy of Salt Lake City School District.
Timothy Gadson III : Courtesy of the Salt Lake City School District

Black community leaders allege racial discrimination is behind the Salt Lake City School Board's decision to ask Timothy Gadson III, the first Black superintendent of a Utah school district, to resign.

Driving the news: Gadson was appointed one year ago.

  • Sources told KUTV that his critics have called him "loud" and intimidating, and alleged "favoritism" because he had hired other Black administrators.
  • The Salt Lake chapter of the NAACP said the board has created a hostile work environment and a month ago called on federal authorities to investigate the district for racial discrimination.
  • Yándary Chatwin, executive director of communications and community relations for the Salt Lake City School District, said she was unable to comment on personnel issues.

Details: Salt Lake City School Board members voted 6-1 last week to put Gadson on leave, KUTV reported.

  • Mohamed Baayd, the only Black member of the board, said the complaints were "baseless," racially motivated and based on "cultural misunderstandings."

What they're saying: Jeanetta Williams, president of Salt Lake's NAACP, called critics' accusations against Gadson racist and discriminatory. She said other Black professionals in the state have faced similar treatment.

  • “They make all these different excuses to legitimize their racism, and their discrimination against him,” Williams told Axios. “They wouldn't be doing all of that if he were not African American.”

Context: If Gadson steps down, he will be the second consecutive superintendent to leave the district amid controversies dealing with racism.

  • A former board member said Gadson's predecessor, Lexi Cunningham, resigned in 2020 after refusing to fire a number of principals the board wanted to terminate.
  • One of those principals was former West High principal Ford White, who was fired the day after Cunningham quit — reportedly because he drove a group of girls home in their car after he found them drinking at school, rather than calling the police on them. An assistant principal followed White to pick him up.
  • The girls, who were students of color, said White was being punished after he spared them a potentially catastrophic run-in with a criminal justice system where racial disparities are pervasive.

What's next: According to an email obtained by Axios Salt Lake City, Business Administrator Alan Kearsley has been asked to take the supervisory lead for the district.

  • Yes, but: He is not serving as interim superintendent.
  • Gadson did not respond to Axios' request for comment.
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