SALT LAKE CITY — After a FOX 13 investigation revealed unprofessional emails and text messages, members of the Salt Lake City School District have fulfilled their promise to attend professional development training.
There was one exception.
Board member Katherine Kennedy, who was caught sending a slew of profane messages in the middle of a board meeting, refused to participate. For months, she has faced pressure to step down from her elected position.
The professional development training lasted several hours over a span of two days in January. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the first time 2021 board members were able to meet in person for a public meeting.
“There was an energy and excitement about being together,” said board president Melissa Ford. “It felt good! It felt really good!”
“It was brilliant,” added board vice president Nate Salazar. “To have everybody in the same room, you could feel the energy.”
Last year, in an apology letter that was sent to families throughout the district, Ford promised to institute professional development training in order to repair the board’s reputation.
“Recently, you have likely read or seen stories about some of our Board members behaving in a manner not in keeping with the high standards of the office to which you have elected us,” Ford wrote. “To put it simply: you and our students deserve better.”
Kennedy joined other members of the board in signing her name at the bottom of the letter.
“I’m the board president, and I felt (the apology) needed to come from me,” Ford said.
Although a review of Ford’s messages did not show any unprofessional behavior, her texting history revealed a series of profane messages that Kennedy sent during a meeting on July 21.
The following messages have been censored by FOX 13:
- You promised me
- You f***ing promised me
- I f***ing HATE YOU
- F*** YOU
- I will never trust you again
- You are not trustworthy
Kennedy was upset the meeting did not end on time.
Although Kennedy has since attended some board meetings discussing the importance of following the SLC School District code of conduct and Utah state laws, she was noticeably absent from the two-day professional development retreat in January.
“I think everybody who was here benefited,” Ford said. “What we’re trying to create here is a unified team, and any time one member of the board doesn’t participate it hurts the team… I was hurt because I would have wanted the whole group to be together, but I honor her decision. That’s her choice.”
Kennedy said she was not able to make the training due to a prior commitment.
However, in a series of emails to board members spanning multiple weeks, Kennedy said she refused to attend the training because of the man chosen to lead it.
The majority of the board voted 6-1 in favor of attending training with governance coach AJ Crabill, with Kennedy dissenting.
“He was insulting,” Kennedy wrote on January 14, 2021. “During our December meeting, Mr. Crabill deliberately shamed members of the SLCSD in a scheduled meeting in front of the public… he has not graduated from college nor does he have any certifications for teaching communications or leadership skills.”
“I still have not received an apology from Board Member Ford for not honoring that commitment (to end the July meeting on time) and for the many troubles that have ensued because of her inadequate leadership and her inability to run an orderly meeting,” Kennedy continued.
“I will not attend any session moderated or attended by Mr. Crabill,” Kennedy wrote on January 7, 2021. “I will not be bullied or maneuvered into a session with him again.”
“Under no circumstances do I want to work with him and I do not plan to attend sessions with him present,” Kennedy wrote on January 2, 2021. “His style is shaming and I do not intend to be bullied into any more tepid ‘self-discoveries.’”
In an interview with FOX 13, Crabill said he was not offended by Kennedy’s statements.
“What I hear is that people are intensely focused on improving the outcomes for their students,” Crabill said. “It is not for me or anyone else to articulate to them what is the best way for them to represent the vision and values of the community… It can never be set aside that we are people of passion and vision for what’s possible for children.”
Most board members raved about the training, due to the feeling of unity it provided.
“While we sit on this board, it cannot be about us,” said new board member Jenny Sika. “It has to be about our community. It has to be about our students.”
In a Zoom interview with FOX 13, Kennedy said she has since changed her mind about Crabill.
“I was able to listen to it afterwards, and it was useful and fine. So I think it was fine,” Kennedy said. “The rest of the board has had a good experience with him, and I would not rule out working with Mr. Crabill.”
Kennedy said she has never missed a board meeting and believes in the importance of professionalism.
“Is there anything you’d like to say to those who were offended by your messages?” asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.
“I think that I would really appreciate your not asking or including those questions, because I think that that isn’t what you told me you wanted to talk about, and I don’t think that’s the subject of this interview,” Kennedy responded.
Kennedy hung up the Zoom call.
One of Kennedy’s constituents, a mother named Melanie Rogers, said she was not surprised with the lack of accountability.
Rogers has sent emails to Kennedy in the past, asking her elected board member to stop being disrespectful.
“Just come out and be honest and say, ‘I’m sorry. I lost my temper. I shouldn’t have said that,’” Rogers said. “She’s too hard to talk to if you don’t agree with her… She’s hurt my feelings. She’s hurt my family’s feelings.”
Kennedy was not the only board member caught sending unprofessional messages, but she is the only one who has repeatedly declined opportunities to answer for it.
“We’ve been under a microscope,” Salazar said. “I look at this, what we did in the last two days, as a continuation of our commitment to the community.”
“Is there anything that you would like to say to those who might have been offended by some of the messages they saw from you?” Herbets asked.
“Absolutely,” Salazar responded. “One of the things I said in our meeting today is that talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words…. I’m not going to shy away from that. I’m going to own, not only my own mistakes, but I’m also going to make sure that we move this district forward in a positive way.”
Watch the entire interview with Salt Lake City School District board member Katherine Kennedy below:
Watch a Q&A session we held on Facebook after the segment aired: