Willard Update – Dawn Miller responds, and teachers arm themselves against Cole with small recording devices.


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Dawn Miller

So, your humble OJ correspondent finally got a call back on the Willard Intermediate controversy last week, after nearly a month of trying – not from controversial Willard Intermediate Principal Dennis Cole nor SAUSD Superintendent Jane Russo, both of whom I’d left repeated messages for – but from Dawn Miller, who has the title of  “Assistant Supervisor Secondary Education” and is said to be quite close to Cole.

To jog your memory, the original controversy was this:  The extremely religious Principal Cole had convinced a few teachers to lead a lunchtime, student, Bible-study prayer club named “Jaguars for Jesus.”  This is forbidden in public schools by several Supreme Court decisions, as an unconstitutional breach of the separation of church and state.  Teachers can do a club like that by themselves;  students can also do the same;  but to have teachers leading students in religious activities in a public school just smacks too much of the government endorsing a particular religion, or opposing non-religion.  Very simple.

Then it got worse in early December:  Reacting to complaints about this situation, Cole banned ALL student clubs, the chess club, gardening club, “Claws” club, lamely turning the constitutionality argument sideways:  that it was unconstitutional for there to be one kind of club and not another.  It was impossible, especially given his refusal to answer any questions, to interpret this as anything but the pettiest vindictiveness – if I can’t have mine, nobody can have anything.  (Hear his argument here, first few minutes.)

Well, now what spokeswoman Dawn Miller says, weeks later, is that once complaints came in about the illegality of Jaguars For Jesus, the administration realized they didn’t really have any “by-laws” for forming student clubs, and that they’d never even had any clubs till just recently.  (Is that true?)  And that now school’s starting again, the ASB will be looking at all the banned clubs quickly to see if they can get them started up again properly.  And that when Jaguars For Jesus comes back, it will be run by students as it should be.  I’m sure with all the Willard staff and faculty that come to this blog, we’ll see if this really happens.

[Oh, and she also admitted these same unconstitutional teacher-led student religious clubs probably do happen at other schools in the district – interesting.  Maybe Willard’s just unique in having faculty and staff who care about the constitution and religious freedom?  And/or a zealot principal insistent on pushing things to the limit?]

Principal Dennis Cole

Meanwhile, the Orange Juice Blog has become the place for Willard and other SAUSD faculty & staff to share their stories and air their grievances in safe anonymity, and they’ve been quite compelling to hear.  Numerous commenters, without exception, paint a harrowing picture of Willard as a low-performing school with a dictatorial principal intent on turning teachers against each other, privately browbeating and intimidating them, aggressively bringing his own religion into the school, and retaliating against any employee who questions him.  They also say that no matter what he does he’ll always be uncritically supported both by Superintendent Russo and by Cole’s old friend Dawn Miller.  Teachers and staff have now taken to carrying small voice-activated recorders on them (as many already did) as he also has a habit of denying what he says to them privately.  See all the amazing reports here, here, and here.

Well, there’s no big news in today’s particular post, I just wanted to create a new forum for Willard people to talk this new year, since there are so many hundreds of comments on the old posts already.  Maybe things will get better this year;  maybe the clubs will be re-instated quickly and the Constitution respected, and the Principal treat faculty and staff differently now that he knows many of them are armed with small recording devices.  Keep coming back to the OJ, everybody!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.