Kundu declines calls from NAACP, Tulalip Tribes to resign from Marysville School Board in wake of ethnic remarks in e-mail

MARYSVILLE - Marysville School Board member Michael Kundu has no plans to step down, even after members of the Tulalip Tribes and the Snohomish County NAACP have asked for his resignation in the wake of comments he made via e-mail regarding the academic achievement gap between ethnic groups.

Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr. echoed Snohomish County NAACP President Janice Greene's condemnations of Kundu's e-mails as racist. Sheldon warned that the Tribes might seek a recall for Kundu if he doesn't step down, while Greene also asked Kundu's fellow Board members to denounce his position and to affirm their commitment to closing the achievement gap identified by state and school district data.

"We are extremely disappointed that the majority of the Marysville School Board Directors did not reject the racially and culturally biased theories e-mailed to them from Mr. Kundu," Greene wrote in a letter dated June 11. "Their silence gave the perception that they agree with Mr. Kundu's beliefs."

Tulalip Tribal Board member Don Hatch Jr., who served alongside Kundu on the Marysville School Board for several years, said that Kundu would not recover from his remarks.

In an e-mail dated June 3, Kundu cited the work of John Philippe Rushton, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, as evidence that certain ethnic groups possess biological advantages and disadvantages compared to others, in areas including brain sizes and intelligence levels.

"Since I wrote those e-mails, I've done a lot more research on Rushton," Kundu said. "I've learned that he was definitely racist and used very questionable methods. I would not have brought up his work if I'd known then what I know now."

Kundu agreed with Oscar Eason Jr., state conference president of the NAACP, who spoke at the June 7 Board meeting about how conclusions such as Rushton's could affect the attitudes of minority students, and how they see their own potential.

"Kids who are part of these groups could hear this and say to themselves, 'Oh, man, that's me, so why should I even bother to try?'" Kundu said. "If they assume that such statements about their own intellects are irrefutable, they could conclude that they have no chance. The implications of that are important to consider, and I deeply regret bringing this issue up."

At the same time, Kundu has rejected calls for his resignation, citing what he sees as the strength his eight-year record of service on the Board.

"If Janice Greene or any of my other critics can point to any academic-related initiatives of mine that have impeded improvements for the kids, then I'll say that they have a valid request," said Kundu, who was elected to his third four-year term last November. "These e-mails, on the other hand, were simply in pursuit of data."

In her remarks to The Marysville Globe, Greene criticized Kundu for what she saw as using rhetoric to reframe the debate in a way that moved it away from his original e-mails. In his own remarks to The Marysville Globe, Kundu accused Greene of engaging in sensationalist tactics and of ignoring his earlier invitation to her to contribute to discussions on school closures within the district.

Kundu also criticized Board President Sherri Crenshaw for circulating his e-mails to members of the public, rather than coming to him directly with her concerns.

"If we'd kept the dialogue within the Board, she could have said to me, 'This is a bad discussion,'" Kundu said. "Instead, she takes a shot at me in public, and who suffers? The kids, if our levy fails in August because of this. She's thrown the district under the bus. This is not the way a functional board operates."

Kundu pointed to his support for multicultural programs ranging from teaching Lushootseed within the district to protecting the Japanese and German language programs at Marysville-Pilchuck High School as evidence of his positive contributions.

"If I step down, it would be a loss to the district," Kundu said. "My own kids are still in the system for the next three years. I don't want to let any of these kids down."

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