School Climate & Safety

San Diego Board in Turmoil Over ‘Shooting’ Suggestion

By Mark Stricherz — October 17, 2001 2 min read
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Two weeks after suggesting in an e-mail that two members of the San Diego school board be shot, the board’s president stepped down from that post.

Sue Braun will remain on the five-member board, however, despite calls from the two colleagues that she resign. She sent an electronic message on Sept. 25 to a handful of senior district officials, complaining about a six-hour board meeting that night.

“The only other idea I have is to shoot the both of them,” she wrote of John de Beck and Frances O’Neill Zimmerman. “I was thinking of a way to get them both with one bullet, but now think they are too heavy for that to work.”

The e-mail, and Ms. Braun’s decision to remain on the board, made waves in the 143,000-student California district. Both Mr. de Beck and Ms. Zimmerman last week questioned Ms. Braun’s stability and said her continued presence on the board mocked the district’s zero-tolerance discipline policy for students.

“I think it’s ridiculous, and I think it’s going to severely handicap this board,” Mr. de Beck said, “because any time an employee disputes a decision or a discipline matter has to be resolved, they’re going to say, ‘This crazy lady is leading the district.’ ”

“She said she was crazy in her e-mail,” Ms. Zimmerman said, referring to Ms. Braun’s comment that the two members had made “the rest of the board members, including me, crazy.”

“I’m not a psychologist, but I think it’s unstable,” Ms. Zimmerman added. “Normal persons don’t say things like that.”

“In a statement, Ms. Braun called her remarks a “terrible error in judgment.” She apologized to Mr. de Beck and Ms. Zimmerman, though the apology did not stop them from calling for her resignation.

Ron Ottinger, the board’s vice president, called on members to remain civil at meetings.

Offhand Remark?

District spokesman Tom Mitchell said the e-mail was wrong, but also offhand, typed up soon after the meeting ended. He noted that the e-mail ends by stating, “I will seriously listen to any ideas.”

Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. de Beck usually oppose Superintendent Alan D. Bersin, while Ms. Braun and two other colleagues support him. The Sept. 25 incident came after Mr. de Beck disputed claims by district officials that student test scores were making consistent progress.

San Diego police and the local district attorney’s office looked into whether Ms. Braun’s e-mail comments constituted a threat, but concluded they did not.

The school board will vote on a new president at its Oct. 23 meeting. Ms. Braun has told members that she will not seek re-election to the school board, Mr. Mitchell said. Her term expires in December 2002.

Ms. Braun’s comments came against a backdrop of school shootings in the area earlier this year. On March 5, a student at Santana High School in nearby Santee shot and killed two students and injured 13 other students and staff members. Seventeen days later, a student at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon shot three students and two teachers.

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