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November 24, 2021

Parents Ask For SLVUSD to Investigate Classroom Disturbance

When a group of San Lorenzo Valley Elementary School students gave their parents the rundown of their day on Nov. 10, the stories seemed almost unbelievable: they said the new San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District Superintendent, Chris Schiermeyer, had entered their fourth-grade class, gotten flustered and yelled at them for acting up—bringing multiple students to tears.

After conferring with each other, the parents found the details of their children’s stories seemed to match.

At the school board meeting on Nov. 17, several parents spoke during the public comment period, to bring the situation to light.

Adam Johnson, the varsity girls’ basketball coach at San Lorenzo Valley High School, was fuming over what reportedly happened in his son’s class that day.

“I stand here in support of other parents, as we—like our children—are confused and hurt over what transpired at San Lorenzo Valley Elementary,” he said, adding he was angry to learn the superintendent had even removed his mask during the incident. “I am greatly disappointed to hear that Mr. Schiermeyer failed to properly assess the situation.”

Johnson said he’s never once felt compelled to react so strongly in front of students that it brought them to tears.

“Positive reinforcement, even on most inconsequential behaviors, can offer limitless potential to students whether it’s in the classroom, in a drama production or in athletics,” Johnson said. “Yet, last week, Mr. Schiermeyer felt negative reinforcement was the appropriate choice.”

Two days after the parents say the superintendent lost his cool, he sent multiple unsolicited emails to the coach, including one where he apologized to Johnson’s son “if the incident caused undue stress,” he told trustees, quoting the message.

He said he wants the board to conduct a thorough investigation to hold Schiermeyer accountable.

Another parent said students were singled out by Schiermeyer, including two who were “following protocol” by using coping strategies, like doodling or going to the corner of the classroom to regain a sense of calm.

In an interview with the Press Banner, Schiermeyer took responsibility for his actions.

He says he’d been walking the grounds of the school and popped in to check on the class. When he noticed some of the students weren’t following their teacher’s direction, he decided to take control.

“They weren’t behaving,” he said. “At that moment I felt like I should intervene.”

One parent confirmed at least one of the students came to class late. Others said students were supposed to sit on a rug as part of an activity but weren’t obeying right away.

Schiermeyer says he continued observing the classroom and left of his own accord and didn’t hear about the crying students, until later on.

But a parent told the Press Banner students said the crying had already begun while Schiermeyer was still in the room.

Schiermeyer says he’s sorry for the way he responded.

“To be honest, this was a teachable moment for me as a new superintendent,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from it.”

And, he says he’s supportive of new policies for when guests visit a classroom, which some of the parents were calling for.

“I understand where the parents are coming from,” he said. “I think it’s actually good to consider a protocol.”

None of the parents who spoke at the meeting said they wanted to see Schiermeyer lose his job because of the situation.

In interviews, parents explained they want to see the district take action to prove it is serious about creating a safe school environment.

Ongoing Court Cases

The incident comes just months after former teacher Michael Henderson was sentenced to home confinement for assaulting a student during private tutoring lessons, and after another former teacher, Eric Kahl, agreed to resign when a school investigation found he’d engaged in “predatory grooming” while employed.

Meanwhile, former SLVUSD administrator Ned Hearn had a court date via Zoom on Nov. 16 in Solano County Superior Court, where he’s a defendant in a child sex abuse lawsuit.

Natasha Langenfeld and Whitney Davis appeared on behalf of the defense, while Courtney Kiehl appeared for Melissa Chowning, who says Hearn raped her while she attended Dixon Unified School District in the 1990s. Discovery is ongoing.

Schiermeyer clarified that, since Hearn is not accused of doing anything illegal while employed at SLVUSD—and because of the provisions of his contract—when his administrative role ended, the relationship with the district wasn’t actually severed.

That means, while he’s not currently assigned to instruct any classes, Hearn’s technically still on the payroll as a teacher.

Both Hearn and science teacher William Winkler are on paid administrative leave, as investigations into their conduct continue.

Schiermeyer became superintendent after Laurie Bruton resigned when the 2020-21 school year ended.

At the Nov. 17 board meeting, President Gail Levine said SLVUSD would discuss Schiermeyer’s behavior in a closed session.

“I want everyone who’s in attendance or listening to be assured that we don’t take anything lightly,” she said. “We all make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on pencils.”

The SLVUSD will be looking at ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again, Levine added.

“We need to all work together—the board—with Mr. Schiermeyer,” she said, “so that we can go forward and continue the climate in San Lorenzo Valley that we are all accustomed to.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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