California superintendent fired for allegedly threatening students who didn't clap for her daughter

A California superintendent was terminated from the school district Tuesday through a school board vote following an investigation into her conduct.

In November, students of the Del Norte High School softball team alleged that Poway Unified School District Superintendent Marian Kim Phelps threatened their graduation privileges over a perceived slight of her daughter, who was on the team.

They addressed the school board during a meeting, alleging that Phelps believed the group had not clapped loudly enough for her daughter, NBC San Diego reported at the time.

Following a softball awards banquet last May, students say Phelps called and texted some of them late that night accusing them of not clapping for her daughter at the ceremony, NBC San Diego reported. Phelps then allegedly threatened to revoke their graduation privileges if they didn’t apologize to her daughter, the students said.

Coach Tom Peronto said during a school board meeting last year that he alerted the board over Phelps’ “abuse of power” and his livelihood was threatened as a result.

“Because I had exposed these abuses and emails to the board members, she then falsely accused me of verbally attacking a member of the board in the district parking lot, using this as justification to have me fired from coaching softball at Del Norte,” Peronto said.

Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff, school board president, said the board voted to terminate Phelps’ contract during a closed session on Tuesday following an investigation that was launched on November 15 and ended on April 18. The probe reviewed statements from 41 witnesses and many documents, which contradicted Phelps’ accounts.

“Based on her conduct, as revealed to the Board through the investigation, the Board has lost all confidence and trust in Dr. Phelps’ ability to continue to serve as Superintendent, as well as in her ability to continue to work collaboratively with the Board as part of Poway Unified’s governance team,” O’Connor-Ratcliff said.

No additional details were provided in O’Connor-Ratcliff’s statement, citing laws pertaining to both student and personnel privacy.

Phelps did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment from NBC News on Wednesday and a phone number listed for her through public records has been disconnected. NBC San Diego has previously reported that Phelps denied the allegations against her.

A lawsuit was also filed in San Diego County in connection to the matter in November, identifying the student only as Jane Doe. The lawsuit alleges that Phelps “constructed a narrative falsely suggesting” the student bullied her daughter, and orchestrated a biased internal investigation against the girl.

The suit also alleged that Phelps “unilaterally” perceived an “intense rivalry” between her daughter and other student athletes on the softball team.

As a result, the girl was barred from extracurricular activities for her senior year which included playing for the softball team as well as dances, field trips, student clubs, activities and graduation, the lawsuit said. Phelps allegedly gave the student and her parents less than a day to sign an “Other Means of Correction Contract” agreeing to the discipline.

The girl’s family had an attorney raise concerns over the matter, but Phelps allegedly doubled down instead, so the girl challenged Phelps’ investigation to the PUSD Board of Education with more than 20 witness statements refuting Phelps’ claims, the suit said.

Phelps denied the allegations in a statement to NBC San Diego, saying she “never threatened any student.”

“I never would. I’ve never talked to any student about making threats about them not graduating,” Phelps said. “All those accusations are completely false and fabricated.”

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