Tumwater School District’s new Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) had been on the job for less than a month when four postings on his personal Facebook account became known to district parents and officials this past Tuesday.
The district put out a statement tonight at 5:15 announcing that “After significant discussion of and reflection on the community's feedback and concerns, the Superintendent has accepted the resignation of the District's recently hired director of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
A previously scheduled meeting of the district’s Equity Advisory Committee on Wednesday via Zoom was fully devoted to discussion about and with Alekcander Zhdanov, who was recruited from the Galveston (Texas) Independent School District following a nationwide search. The new position pays “in the range of $120,000 per year,” according to Sean Dotson, Tumwater School’s superintendent, who moderated the online meeting.
Some 160 people participated in the 75-minute Zoom call; the high attendance was noted by several of the people who were called upon to speak. The full meeting is shown in the video above.
Zhdanov was a well-prepared candidate
According to his LinkedIn biography, Zhdanov has focused his professional work in the DEI area for 10 years, participating in the National Association of Multicultural Education since January 2011. He claims to have been a member of the NAACP and ACLU since that time as well, and of Human Rights Campaign since 1984. He’s completing doctorate in education.
The JOLT attempted to reach both Zhdanov and Superintendent Dotson today. Neither returned various messages. This report is based on a review of the 75-minute Zoom meeting on Wednesday, July 28, and of the Facebook material.
Four posts on Facebook
At issue were four “meme” posts that Zhdanov had passed along with minor comments. All four are shown above this story. They included:
Zhdanov spoke early and several times through the meeting. Among his first comments were these words: “I have to own the posts. I have to admit … publicly to the community, to the district, that those posts were incredibly insensitive.” Referring to the timing of the earlier three posts, he added, “During a political campaign, things get heated and bothered. … For whatever reason, I contributed to the problem of a very contentious election and political environment that we find ourselves in today. As opposed to being part of the solution.”
Comments of parents
Asked by Tumwater resident Jason Rantz, “Do you believe Republicans or Trump supporters, and/or Christians are racists?” Zhdanov replied, “The answer is unequivocally no. My mother is a conservative Republican and an Evangelical Christian. Particularly in conversations with her, I have learned that … we have so much more in common as far as our goals are concerned.”
He added, “I do not believe that just because you are of a particular political party that you are a racist, particularly if you are a Christian. I myself am a Christian. I believe wholeheartedly, wholeheartedly, in that faith system.”
Several parents of children attending Tumwater schools asked questions or made statements, most of them opposed to continuing Zhdanov’s relationship with the district.
A parent identified as “Sarah’s iPhone” said, “Your last post was a month ago. Do you really expect me to believe that you changed in the last 30 days?” and “Anybody can say they are Christians. I consider you a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Her comments to Superintendent Dotson were no less direct. She said, “You shouldn’t have any time to mull this over. If the situation were reversed and it were a person of color that he was referring to, he would already be out the door. The fact that you are doubting this right now is leading your entire community to doubt you as a superintendent. …I encourage you to do what’s right by your community, who is calling out to you, and telling you that they do not trust this person with their children.”
Superintendent Dotson stated, “I’m not going to make a decision during this meeting.”
During the recruiting process for this position, no attempt was made to review candidates’ social media accounts, according to the superintendent, who added that future hires’ accounts will be reviewed.
The need for the position
Several parents questioned the need for a Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. One said, “I didn’t realize there was (racial bullying) in our school district.” The superintendent defended the position, pointing out that the school district’s “board identified this as a key area of work we have to do.”
Three parents of non-white children pointed out that their children had experienced racial bullying and applauded the district for its recent efforts to improve equity, diversity and inclusion.
I’ve never seen this many people here. And we’ve had a lot of issues in Tumwater around different things. It’s interesting that as soon as it’s [comments] against white people we have a large majority of people here,” said Katherine Saylors, who added that she has a biracial son who used to attend a Tumwater school but left because of his experiences there.
Savanna Kresse, who identified herself as Mexican-American, said, “As a mother of brown children in this school district I am very concerned with this environment. The experiences that my son has [had] in the one year that we have been here makes a lot of sense now… a lot of work needs to be done here.”