Demands for Marysville School Board member's resignation over ethnic comments in e-mail increase

MARYSVILLE — During the June 14 meetings of the Tulalip Tribal Board at noon and the Marysville School Board that evening, as well as the joint meeting of the two boards held in between on the same day, the consensus was nearly unanimous in asking for Marysville School Board member Michael Kundu to resign.

After speaking at the June 7 Marysville School Board meeting, Snohomish County NAACP President Janice Greene and state Hispanic Commission Chair Lillian Ortiz-Self spoke at the Tulalip Board’s June 14 meeting to reiterate their objections to Kundu’s June 3 e-mails regarding the academic achievement gap. Frida Takamura, chair of the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, joined Greene and Ortiz-Self to echo their calls that Kundu resign after citing research which claimed that race was linked to brain size and intellectual aptitude. All three likewise called upon Kundu’s fellow Marysville School Board members to publicly disavow Kundu’s comments.

Rebecca Peck, health and social service director for the Samish Tribe, worried that Samish children who attend Marysville schools would not be best served by school board members who hold such beliefs, while Darryl Hillaire of the Lummi Nation characterized the results of Kundu’s actions as hateful, regardless of what their intentions might have been. Karina Walters, director of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, warned that societal and structural inequalities create “discrimination distress” that can have real impacts on minority students’ well-being, while Dr. Michael Marker, First Nation Graduate Studies Associate professor at the University of British Columbia, dismissed the research that Kundu cited as part of a stereotypical racial narrative.

Not only did Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr. and Board member Don Hatch Jr. also call for Kundu’s resignation, but they joined the rest of the Tulalip Tribal Board in meeting with the Marysville School Board, minus Kundu and plus Marysville School District Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland, at 5 p.m. that day. Hatch served alongside Kundu on the Marysville School Board for four years and argued that his resignation is the only way to begin healing the community’s wounds, while Sheldon noted that the Tribes were exploring the possibility of a recall if Kundu does not step down.

Kundu was in Washington, D.C., during these meetings, but in a June 11 interview with The Marysville Globe, he declared that he has no plans to step down, even as he apologized for the harm done to minority students by his e-mails, citing research that he himself has since concluded to be racist. In response to Kundu’s accusations of sensationalist tactics on the part of Greene and Marysville School Board President Sherri Crenshaw, Greene noted that Kundu was responsible for writing the e-mails and accused him in turn of attempting to reframe the issue.

Of the remaining four Marysville School Board members, only Darci Becker did not state unequivocally that she would ask Kundu to resign, citing a private conversation she’d had with Kundu whose content she felt uncomfortable disclosing, beyond revealing that she’d been critical of Kundu’s actions when they’d spoken. Fellow Board member Chris Nation proposed a resolution for the Board to apologize for Kundu’s actions which was approved by a 4-0 vote of the board and the request for Kundu’s resignation will be an action item at the Board’s June 21 meeting.

The joint meeting of the two boards pushed the Marysville School Board meeting back to 7:30 p.m., at which time Marysville Education Association President Arden Watson condemned Kundu’s “reckless ideas and faulty research.” Reggie Gillins Jr. and Sr. both followed, with the 15-year-old younger Gillins asserting that “an injustice to one race is an injustice to all,” while his father told the Marysville School Board that they need to take a unanimous stand against Kundu’s remarks in order to remain true to their school district’s stated goal of equal education for every student.

For many attendees, arguments which attempt to connect race and intellect have brought up bad memories. Sherry Guzman recalled being one of only two Native Americans in a classroom in which she was told by her teacher that research had “proven” that Native Americans had smaller brains and a lesser ability to learn. She continued to believe this claim for 20 years, but after she believed she could achieve, she earned her master’s degree. Margie Santibanez graduated high school in 1982 in spite of one teacher telling her, “The Mexican in you is too lazy and the Indian in you is too dumb to graduate.”

“People can achieve, and this ‘small brain’ has achieved plenty,” Santibanez said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

Twenty-three state legislators, including Reps. Mike Hope and John McCoy, cosigned a June 14 letter to Kundu, referencing state research that refutes the research claims cited by Kundu. According to the letter, five independent studies in 2008 concluded that the need for cultural competency training and the lack of multicultural curricula were barriers to learning for children of color, whereas intellectual deficiencies were not. All six state legislators called for Kundu to offer Marysville students an apology at the least.

Previous stories on the issue can be found here and here.

You will find Michael Kundu's Letter to the Editor here.

The letter signed by members of the Washington Legislature is below.


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