A frustrated student’s opinions on Board Trustee Michael Allman (Full Version)
Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this article are mine and mine alone. They are not published in an effort to fulfill an agenda or satisfy any external organization. To my knowledge, any facts stated are true, and any opinions stated are fully believed and thoughtfully researched.
April 27, 2022
The name “Michael Allman” has been swirling around San Dieguito Academy’s social circles for over a year now, often accompanied by strong reactions. Michael Allman was installed as the San Dieguito Union High School District Area 4 Trustee on December 11, 2020 and has been a controversial voice in meetings ever since. What’s important to remember, from any perspective of him, is that he is an elected officer and must be treated as such. Before I dive into Allman’s story, I want to acknowledge any biases by introducing myself. My name is Landon Block, I am a senior at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, and have been a student within SDUHSD since seventh grade. In my free time, I play tennis, read the news, consume Marvel content, and spend time with my friends. I am writing this article because I believe in holding elected officers of all levels accountable. I had no power to vote in Michael Allman’s original election, nor in his recall effort. This article is a means for me to fight for what I think is right, with what resources I have. Any information quoted is either linked in blue, or from an interview I conducted with Michael Allman on December 17, 2021. Allman rejected multiple requests to record the conversation, so any quotes are from typed notes. This alone is strange as somebody who advocates themselves as fully transparent. Nevertheless, I am confident in the accuracy of the message of said quotes, and specific vocabulary used when applicable. With that said, here is why I find Michael Allman currently unfit to serve the district.
DISMISSAL OF STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND ADMINISTRATION
Amongst my peers, this issue gets the most talk. Allman often uses the tagline “students first,” yet often it appears he is doing the opposite. In his very first meeting, Allman prompted a discussion on the value of ASB student Board representatives. He expressed that the value the ASB representatives provided to the discussion was “very near zero. These are young kids, and this is a serious topic.” This quote immediately caused outrage within the community and sparked my own curiosity about Allman. When I asked him about this incident, he insisted that it was all taken out of context. He claimed that this happened during a vote in the final minutes of the meeting; Trustee Katrina Young asked for student input to “essentially run out the clock” and force the vote to be delayed to the meeting two days later. In response, Allman claimed he said that the value the students provided at that moment was negligible. That would be decent reasoning, if it were true. While there was some deliberation once the vote had been called, it was not when Allman had his infamous “very near zero” quote. That actually happened 30 minutes earlier (4:44:55 of meeting minutes), when no vote was taking place, nor was there a time crunch to rush through. Over a year later, Allman is still denying the (quite easily fact-checked) situation, and the harm he caused through it.
The discussion at hand before Allman insulted student perspectives was about students’ fears returning to on-campus learning. Keep in mind, this was in December 2020. Vaccines were not widely available, we still did not know exactly how COVID spread, and the return date would be directly after winter break, which saw the most domestic travel since the pandemic began. Students, including me, were worried about a travel-induced COVID surge. This is no case of a quote being taken out of context. Allman made his intentions clear in his very first meeting. I believe he does not care about the opinions of students on situations that affect us every single day. Allman claimed that he votes “with the students every time,” even at the expense of teachers, parents, and administration. However, he also quoted to me a recent situation involving installing sensors in bathrooms to combat vaping in which he voted against the stated opinions of all the student Board representatives, citing that “Sometimes doing what [is] in the best interest of students means you have to go against the stated wishes of their leadership.” This is quite literally the opposite of what he is claiming his values are. If elected representatives are voicing a singular opinion on behalf of their respective schools, I would argue going against that vision is not going “with the students every time.”
The January 2021 reopening also had a major impact on teachers. Unlike students, teachers did not have a reasonable option to continue teaching remotely. I asked Allman about this, as he emphasized the importance of options when it came to students. He told me that teachers could work remotely, as long as they provided what the district deemed a “valid reason,” such as a pre-existing medical condition within their household or even trouble getting childcare. He then claimed that roughly 20% of teachers throughout the district applied for it, and they were prepared to give the exemption to all of them. Again, this sounds nice if it were true, but it just isn’t. Several district teachers have shared stories with me that directly refuted Allman’s claim. Many said that, although there was an option given, it was tedious to file and the district didn’t find many reasons valid. Beyond my personal anecdotes, there were several teachers publicly stating that they intended to resign, as they were unable to teach remotely. The Del Mar Times reported that “10% of the district’s teacher workforce” planned on taking a leave of absence as a result of the original reopening procedure. In another article, they reported that “[m]any teachers have said they have received no information about their options to teach remotely after Jan. 27 and may be forced to either return to the classroom or take unpaid leave.” Clearly, there was not reasonable outreach from the district to provide the same options to teachers as Allman boasted providing to students. Forcing teachers to teach within a hybrid model also questioned the benefit of teaching in-person. I attended in-person classes whenever possible to get myself out of the house and see friends, but I had to view everything through a Google Meet regardless. My teachers were oftentimes paying more attention to the Meet than the students in the classroom, as there was rarely more than one-third of the class on-site. While it was nice to talk to a teacher after class sometimes, I would generally have the same learning experience if the teacher was remote. I don’t believe it was fair to force teachers into a position that put them in high risk situations without much perceived benefit.
Allman has had over a year to reflect on these actions, yet he has not made improvements to his conduct. In April 2022, a video of a DEI training session was circulated of Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward making claims about why she believes Asian students are performing better in our schools. These statements were not completely fact based and many, especially Asian, district members took offense to them. To be extremely clear: I do not condone Superintendent James-Ward’s words. However, I do respect her course of action following criticism. She sent out several apology emails and held an open-mic meeting for anyone in the community to share their grievances against her. She was willing to put herself on the line and bear the consequences of her actions. In the aftermath of the situation, I think it is important to see how it was brought up. After all, how ethnicity affects grades is a loaded question with no definite answer. I don’t think anyone expects Superintendent James-Ward to know the intricacies well enough to explain why one ethnicity performs better than another. Many people seem to have missed that Michael Allman was the one who asked the question: “do we know why Asians do so well in school?” I believe Allman tried to lure Superintendent James-Ward into this undeniably uncomfortable situation because of her lack of allegiance to him. During her hiring process, it seemed likely that she would hold many of the same values as Allman due to her resume, especially her time in the charter school system. However, she has since frequently disagreed with Allman in board meetings. In February, one such meeting showed clear conflict between Allman and Superintendent James-Ward of which Board President Maureen Muir was seemingly unaware. Superintendent James-Ward implied in that meeting that several district staff members have been disrespected, presumably by Allman. In an NBC News segment, Dr. Ward claims she filed an official complaint against Allman on March 10th, and she believes that is the reason why she has been placed on leave and possibly fired. If Dr. Ward is willing to spend atrocious legal fees in order to prove her point, I find it very likely that there is significant evidence against Allman’s behavior. The best way to solve this issue is not firing Dr. Ward. In April 2021, Superintendent Robert Haley resigned and cost the district $270,746 plus health benefits for one year. Dr. Ward would likely be paid a year’s salary after dismissal as well. Allman has claimed to be an advocate for budget accountability, so why is he in favor of throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars, rather than a series of specialized training sessions and increased representation in committees? It could be to weaken the district by needlessly spending money that could go to specialized programs. It could be so he has even greater power on a divided board without a Superintendent to keep him in check. It could even be that he wants to send a message to anybody in the district. To me, it sounds like he may be implying, if you disagree with me, I will end your career here.
TRANSPARENCY AND LACK THEREOF
Above all, elected officials must be transparent and honest. As citizens and constituents, we deserve to know who our Board Members are receiving input from and what their motivations are. Much of Allman’s actions remain hidden, though. Allman told me much of his day-to-day work includes “Reading and posting messages to the Facebook Group: SDUHSD Families for Students First.” This is a private Facebook group that I personally have been denied from joining multiple times. The group was created by Allman in September 2020 with the name “SDUHSD Families for School Reopening,” and, on his website, he claims to have “turned over admin controls” after he was elected. It was renamed in September 2021 to one that, intentionally or not, more strongly aligns with Allman’s campaign slogan. Although he is no longer a moderator, his wife, Lee Ann Allman, is still listed as one. Even in the best cases, Mrs. Allman’s actions as a moderator are likely biased towards conversations that favor her husband’s career and interests. Allman claims to no longer have any administrative ties to the group, but I find it unlikely that he exercises no control over a group he originally created, that is moderated by his wife, and whose title has been changed to mirror his campaign slogan. Even if he doesn’t personally have moderation controls, his constant presence in posting his controversial views is sure to intimidate those who disagree. According to SOS San Dieguito’s reporting, dissenting opinions are often discouraged, despite the Facebook group’s self-identified position as having many different beliefs.
Unfortunately, anybody not accepted into the group is unable to see what exactly conversations take place or how moderation is enforced. The second rule of the group states “screenshots of comments or copying comments that are then shared outside the Facebook group page is a violation of the rules.” If this is one of Allman’s main ways of gathering consensus among constituents, why is it an exclusive, private group that doesn’t allow sharing of its content? It claims to be a place where “members hold a wide spectrum of political beliefs,” yet members have complained of being removed for comments they have made outside of the group itself. By design, there is no way for anybody outside this group to see what is being said within. This means that despite any conversations any SDUHSD stakeholder has with Allman, he can claim that constituents in the Facebook group thought otherwise. It is also unclear how much influence he has over which conversations and comments are allowed under his wife’s moderation abilities. This can lead to the group serving as an echo chamber for Allman and his supporters. If this is where Allman claims to get much of his information, I can’t help but be concerned that the majority of SDUHSD constituents are unable to see how that information is spread and controlled. The group implies that it self-regulates through discourse and many different opinions, but this isn’t the case. The issue comes down to the misconception that SDUHSD and politics do not intersect. By definition, the Board of Trustees are local politicians. They are likely the politicians that have the most direct impact on our school community, and I don’t think we can pretend that our views on national politics cannot coincide with our views on local politics. The Facebook group cannot, in good-faith, claim to have a “wide spectrum of political beliefs” when it removes anyone for having a contradictory view on local politics and Michael Allman’s role within it. By extension, Allman cannot, in good faith, promote this group six separate times on his website. He is adding fuel to an echo-chamber of hate against a population barred from sharing their opinion.
I must admit, Michael Allman is no longer listed as an official moderator of the group, so he has no (current) direct public link to the administration of the Facebook group, other than his wife. What he undeniably does have control of, however, is his emails and public records request. Allman submitted 22 public records requests between March and May 2021, including searches for his own name and the term “election.” The requested records were not meeting minutes or published documents, but instead emails coming to and from SDUHSD accounts. Unbeknownst to myself and many of my peers, any email sent to or from an SDUHSD account is accessible through public records until they are deleted, either manually or automatically after graduation or work termination. I asked Allman if he considered this a violation of privacy, to which he flat out said “no.” He even advised me to delete any emails I “wouldn’t put on the front page of the New York Times; you can quote me on that.” He further elaborated that he has a habit of deleting his emails and was planning on deleting more after he left our conversation. Allman’s political party has continually bashed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for deleting emails, so it perplexed me to listen to him describing similar actions. (Note: Allman ran for Board as nonpartisan, but told me he is currently registered as a Republican.) I acknowledge that his emails may not deal with national security, but they are still issues that directly affect the lives of countless students, parents, and faculty every single day. We may never know the content of the emails Allman is deleting, and that concerns me. This is especially concerning when it comes to the multiple lawsuits against the district during Allman’s time on board. An article by the Times of San Diego specifically quoted a request that evidence, including emails, “must be preserved for potential use in the lawsuit.” I don’t believe deleting an email here or there is evidence of suspicious behavior, but consistently clearing masses of emails absolutely is.
Possibly the most strange of all of Allman’s transparency issues lives on the “Donate” page of his website. This is phrased as donations against his possible recall, yet the page is still up over five months after the recall efforts have ended (although payments are not being accepted). On the $5,000 donation tier, one of the listed perks is “Join[ing] Michael’s Inner Circle of Advisors.” Is Allman really openly admitting that wealthy donors can directly advise him on district policies? I find this beyond troublesome for two main reasons. First, why does Allman need an “Inner Circle?” His conversations with constituents through emails and Board meetings should be more than enough to guide his policy. Second, why should wealthy donors have a prioritized input? $5,000 is no negligible amount of money to be putting towards a political donation. To put that into perspective, San Diego County’s median income is roughly $80,000. Is it reasonable for somebody to donate one-sixteenth of their income (before taxes) to Allman’s campaign? Absolutely not. It is horrendous that Allman would offer an “Inner Circle” to wealthy donors to prioritize over thousands of hard-working constituents who can’t shell out $5,000 to Allman. This circle, by nature of its own criteria, cannot express the opinion of any constituents who are not wealthy. This is unfair representation at best, and suppression of the middle-class and poor at worst. I’m not able to say which it leans closer to, because the public will likely never know how much this “Inner Circle” is utilized. It could never meet, or it could meet every day. We will never know; that terrifies me. Public officials of all levels must be held accountable through honest and transparent communication. Simply put – through closed Facebook groups, deleted emails, and a “Inner Circle of Advisors” – Allman is not providing this to the community.
OUT OF TOUCH WITH ISSUES
Michael Allman has never sat in on a class during instructional time. In comparison, the home page of the district website has photos of Superintendent Ward and multiple other Trustees with students, on school sites. A school Board representative who is responsible for implementing policies that affect thousands of students and teachers every day has, in his own words, “never actually sat in on a class.” He says he has been to some athletic events, talked with families, and been on tours, but has never sat in a class during instructional time. I have to wonder then, how can he measure growth and success within the district when he has no first-hand baseline for how our system works? If I were a district official, the first thing I would want to do would be to survey classes to see how different sets of students and teachers are working together. It seems that is what newly installed Superintendent Ward and Trustee Bronstein are doing. Why has Allman not taken a day, an afternoon even, out of over a year of office to do the same? Yes, discussions with teachers and students about classroom interactions are a valuable tool, but there is simply no substitute for seeing how a classroom interacts. If Allman wants to see our district, he has to see classes functioning first-hand. I don’t even see how this can be a barrier, as classes have been running hybrid or virtually for 6 months of his term. He doesn’t have to travel across the county, he just needs a computer and the will to do so. Unfortunately, it seems that visiting students and faculty in their element to learn from them isn’t his priority.
Somehow, neither is learning of problems that threaten high schools across America. On December 17, 2021, there was reportedly a trend circulating on the app TikTok that encouraged people to call into their school threatening gun violence. This is clearly a serious threat and should be given serious attention. Gun violence in any form, especially within schools, is tragic and should be treated as such. The district sent out three separate emails addressing this threat, with in-school presentations (at least at SDA) to accompany them. When I asked Allman about it, he said “I am not as informed as I should be on this incident, so maybe you can fill me in.” I find any situation where a student is informing a school Board member of a safety threat, especially after the district has sent out multiple notices about it, extremely questionable. This was directly after Allman gave me a detailed plan for how he intends to make schools safer (more on this soon). Board members should be aware of any major threat to any one school in the district, let alone to every school in America. It also appears that Allman isn’t reading the notices that the district expects every student and family to read. This is an issue of both safety and hypocrisy that can be easily prevented.
Most concerning of all is Allman’s proposed guideline to make schools safer. To his credit, some of the points were positive, such as checking in visitors more rigorously. To add to security, Allman explained that he wanted “more cameras, smarter cameras. Cameras that can do facial recognition or license plate capture. Not in areas where you’d have an expectation of privacy. So not in the bathrooms and not in the locker rooms, and probably not in the classrooms to start, but in things like the hallways and common areas.” This is beyond disturbing on multiple levels. I am the first advocate for school safety, but I absolutely do not want cameras tracking and identifying my face around campus. The thought of an automated record of exactly where I go at what time, for 6 hours a day 5 days a week, is genuinely scary. I’m not trying to hide anything, but what happens when I disagree with a school policy? Can the information about where I go every single day be used against me? And these cameras won’t be put in classrooms “to start”? Does that imply that they might be implemented within classrooms in the future? If there is a camera tracking my face at all points where I’m at school, excluding the bathroom, does that not get dangerously close to a surveillance state? Does monitoring nearly every school space provide the best learning environment for our teachers and students? Is anyone asking for this to be implemented at all? The questions to these answers pose devastating impacts for the district that I don’t think any student or teacher wants to live through.
“Before I was a Board member, I was on no parent committees. I had no role with the district at all.”
What motivated Michael Allman to run for the school Board? It wasn’t because his kids had a notable experience in the district, at least one he would note to me, and he wanted to give back. It wasn’t because it’s a fun hobby. And it certainly wasn’t because it was his only job option. Allman’s own campaign website boasts about the prestigious career opportunities he’s had. So why would Allman take on what he describes as 30-60 hours of work every week for much less pay than his previous job as a Fortune 500 CEO? Is he doing it out of the goodness of his heart? It’s possible, but I doubt it. What seems more realistic to me is that Allman is using this role as a political prop to gain the favor of the San Diego Republican Party.
Allman actually ran for Congress as a Republican in 2018 but was eliminated in the primaries. His platform was based on a direct democracy system which envisioned citizens voting on issues, meaning that he would always vote the will of the people (and yet, he has consistently voted against the explicit opinions of students, parents, and teachers as a Board Trustee). I asked him about some topics he brought up in his campaign, none of which were related to education, and he noted that “it is hard to win a seat in Congress unless you have the endorsement of the party,” and he did not have that support in 2018. There is little to explain Allman’s actions as a Board Trustee other than implementing policies the Republican Party favors. He argued for the expanded opening of schools, even when it wasn’t deemed safe by experts, mirroring Republicans around the country at the time. He has negatively commented on the teachers’ union multiple times. He has claimed that free education is a socialist policy and an “empty promise.” Allman has had no experience with public education and had no mention of educational policy during his 2018 congressional run. He has had no role with the District before running for the Board. Running for any office is expensive, in terms of both time and money. Allman has many opportunities that he is giving up to be a Board trustee. All of this also conveniently aligns with the San Diego Republican Party’s desire to fill “local offices” with Republicans. Is Allman taking advantage of a school district to further his political aspirations? Everything Allman does as a Board member is for a reason, and we as constituents must recognize that. To be clear, I don’t think that running for office as a Republican is inherently wrong. However, I do believe taking advantage of a school district to do so is wrong. Allman should be using his time on board to encourage constant and consistent improvement of a district so many groups call home, not to bolster a political resume.
My final message to my fellow students, faculty, and parents:
We are not powerless. If you feel strongly about this issue, or any issue, make your voice heard. There is strength in numbers, and we sure do have a lot of them. I know it can be stressful to follow district politics, but remember that they affect you and me more than most policies the President enacts. This is how we change our community for the better. Have tough conversations, speak out against injustices, and fight for what you believe in. If you can vote, vote with intention. Even if you don’t live in Area 4, cast your vote to keep Allman and the rest of the Board in check. If you cannot vote, make an impact with your time. Protest, create a letter campaign, speak during the public comment section. Do your part. It is only together that we can hold them accountable. To all my teachers, friends, and mentors: thank you for giving me the skills and courage to take a stand for what I believe in. Your lessons will stick with me for the rest of my life.
My final message to Michael Allman:
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me; I know this isn’t the article you were expecting. You were very kind during our conversation, and I appreciate that. I want you to reconsider your actions as a Board Trustee. People are watching you, and people care. There will always be people like me who want to hold you accountable. In your own words, “I move fast, I move strong, I ask tough questions, and don’t let people off the hook.” Well, Mr. Allman, I will not be letting you off the hook for your actions. This is my community; I’m eternally grateful for the experiences and opportunities SDUHSD has given me. I don’t want you to be recalled tomorrow as a result of this article. I don’t think that helps the district much at all in the long term. Instead, I want you to realize that all of us want the best for the district. Take all of us into account in the decisions you make. Listen to the students, and embody the ideals you preach. You may be using this as a step-up to congressional fame. But while you’re here, do your part, and make this district embody the values of its community at large; not those of a limited Facebook group or a set of wealthy donors. Do it for the right reasons, or don’t do it at all.
- 12/15/20 “Very Near Zero” Meeting Recording
- Del Mar Times Article 1 “10% of the district’s teacher workforce”
- Del Mar Times Article 2 (remote teaching options)
- Superintendent James-Ward Comments on Asian Student Performance
- Ward and Allman Board Meeting Conflict
- NBC News: “SDUHSD Superintendent Placed on Leave to Take Legal Action”
- Encinitas Advocate: Robert Haley Resignation Benefits
- SDUHSD Families for Students First Facebook Group
- SOS San Dieguito’s Facebook Group Reporting
- March-May 2021 SDUHSD Public Records Request
- Times of San Diego “evidence… must be preserved for potential use in the lawsuit”
- Michael Allman’s “Donate” page
- Michael Allman’s Website Homepage
- SDUHSD Home Page
- Census income information
- Gun Violence Threat Email 1, 2, and 3
- Allman’s 2018 Ballotpedia survey “socialist policies that promise free education”
- KUSI Article: San Diego Republican Party’s desire to fill “local offices” with Republicans
- Notes from my interview with Michael Allman are available upon request