Despite absence, Creswell looms over VUSD meeting

%22This+does+not+affect+just+the+LGBT+community%2C+and+I+want+to+make+that+very+clear%2C%22+said+Mary+Haffner+of+the+controversy+in+her+final+speech+as+a+VUSD+trustee.+%22An+injustice+against+any+is+an+injustice+against+all.%22+Photo+by%3A+Micah+Wilcox

“This does not affect just the LGBT community, and I want to make that very clear,” said Mary Haffner of the controversy in her final speech as a VUSD trustee. “An injustice against any is an injustice against all.” Photo by: Micah Wilcox

Micah Wilcox and Sam Coats

“We have to ask ourselves [in] what kind of society do we want to live in?” said retiring board member Mary Haffner.

“Schools are a microcosm of our society, and societal responses to actions and words that signal bigotry tend to determine the acceptability of discrimination.”

Despite Superintendent David Creswell’s absence at Tuesday, Dec. 11’s Ventura Unified School District board meeting, his resignation over his controversial remarks given in a 2016 sermon hung over the meeting.

Click here to read more about the lead-up to Creswell’s resignation. His remarks, saved by the Foothill Dragon Press, can also be found here.

The board swore in two new members, Matt Almaraz and Dr. Jerry Dannenberg, and held a reception for Haffner and other retiring member John Walker.

Creswell’s presence was felt, however, in speeches made by Haffner and board member Jackie Moran.

Moran said that, with the swearing in of the new board members, she looked forward to working “as a five-member body of an elected board.”

“The level of discourse and divide we have all been [experiencing] as a district with regard to the latest controversy over our superintendent and his sermon of three years ago, is a symptom of the absence, failing, or abandonment,” of the board’s procedure “with regard to all manner of issues and controversies,” as Moran stated earlier.

“Absolutely not,” said Moran when asked if she felt that the board acted as a team regarding Creswell.

“This [process] hasn’t gone through meetings, it’s gone through other mediums,” she said.

Moran said that there hasn’t been a meeting to discuss Creswell’s replacement: “We haven’t had a meeting, we haven’t established any of that.”

“I’ve come to a lot of these meetings, and I’ve come to know [Creswell] very well, and in my opinion he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” said ASB President Brock Donaldson of the controversy. “I think he shouldn’t be resigning, but at the same time obviously I think what he said wasn’t necessarily okay.” Photo by: Micah Wilcox
Acknowledging that the days surrounding the Creswell resignation have been “difficult for everyone.” Haffner asked everyone to look at the incident “in a broader context of public education.”

“We do not discriminate in public education,” said Haffner.

“We meet each child at the door of our schools and we do all we can to support them, to believe in them, and to celebrate them for who they are.”

“Every school in every public school district must be safe and affirming for all students,” said Haffner.

Haffner was the sole board member to call for Creswell’s resignation, speaking to the Ventura County Star and at Diversity Collective’s meeting on Nov. 27.

After the reception, the board began the period of public comment. During this session, the focus was mainly on Creswell.

Some speakers took positions sympathetic to Creswell, with many even calling for him to rescind his resignation. One supportive speaker was Brent Hisayasu, Creswell’s pastor.

“There is so much support from those who know him,” said Hisayasu of Creswell. “It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they’re on, or their sexual orientation… they are supporting him because Dave Creswell is like Jesus.” Photo by: Micah Wilcox

“Dave Creswell is, first and foremost, a follower of Jesus Christ, and he was a great superintendent because of this,” said Hisayasu, a preacher at Harvest Bible Chapel. “His passion was to provide an education for all students in safe and healthy, high-performing school districts, and he was relentlessly for the future of every student.”

Hisayasu also spoke out in defense of Ventura’s Christian community.

“On behalf of our church, and of Christians around Ventura, I want you to know that we are not your enemy, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the problem,” he added. “Our Savior came to seek and save that which was lost, I foremost, and David Creswell included. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope and we, like Dave, want nothing but a safe, healthy high-performing school district.”

Other public comments centered on the actions taken by Mary Haffner.

“I have been employed with Ventura Unified School District for 16 years, and I was very proud of that association until a few weeks ago when I saw, sadly, how poorly treated Mr. Creswell was,” said Kay Miller, one speaker. “Instead of calling for his resignation, I believe the board should ask Mrs. Haffner to apologize, not only to Mr. Creswell, but to the LGBT community… I would further ask that they not accept Mr. Creswell’s resignation, but stand with him to show that the mean-spirited rhetoric and actions of Mrs. Haffner will not be tolerated.”

While most speakers took a more pro-Creswell stance, some of his most prominent critics stood firm in their calls for his resignation.

Joseph Summers, President of the Ventura County Diversity Collective, was one such speaker.

“Given his position as a public school superintendent, and that his sermon, where he mocks LGBTQ high school youth, was from a time when a public school district was his employer… we know that rejecting behaviors from family based on religious beliefs, and hate speeches disguised as sermons, has major negative health outcomes for our youth,” said Summers.

“LGBTQ youth are eight times more likely to commit suicide. 86 percent of LGBTQ youth report being harassed and bullied at school… these beliefs have no place at our public schools.”

Summers also rebutted claims that Creswell was not afforded the same “restorative justice” opportunities that LGBT advocates have called for in the past. Restorative justice refers to a system in which problems are resolved through reconciliation of victims and offenders.

“Restorative justice is always victim-centered,” he said. “So, for us to take that away from the victims… does an injustice to what restorative justice is supposed to do in the long term.”

Dan Nelson, speaking in his role as president of the Ventura United Educators Association, urged the community to move forward.

“We believe in tomorrow,” said Nelson.

“We know that you will weather this storm, as difficult as it is, and we will all work together to bring Ventura Unified back together. There is a ‘unified’ in our name for a reason.”

Stating the union’s willingness to work with a new superintendent, Nelson said that the union is ready to address its concerns about various issues in VUSD, including issues regarding social, socioeconomic and racial justice and issues relating to the LGBTQI+ community.

“We know that we’re all committed to working together,” said Nelson.