Megan Keefer, California High School principal since July 2019, announced Wednesday that she is stepping away from that position to return to the classroom as a high school English teacher next fall.
“Our district is embarking on a remarkable journey toward exciting developments in teaching and learning,” Keefer wrote in a letter to the Cal High community. “SRVUSDs commitment to innovative instructional practices has been pulling at my teacher heartstrings.”
Keith Rogenski, San Ramon Valley Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, confirmed the move by saying, "There are a number of new administrative appointments and transfers across the district, as is typical for this time of year. Megan Keefer has requested to return to the classroom and stay in our district, and that is going to be honored.”
Keefer was unavailable for comment. Yesterday, a Facebook friend of the Keefer's asked friends to support Keefer and her family as they struggle with serious health issues with Keefer's grandson, who was born May 22.
Some are questioning the timing of the announcement because Keefer and SRVUSD Superintendent Dr. John Malloy have been involved in a recent controversy over Cal High’s unofficial cheer squad mascot that went viral on social media.
The Cal High cheer and stunt team came under fire Saturday, May 21, when “Black Bay Area” posted an image of a varsity cheerleader posing with a Black cosmetology mannequin. The text with the photo read “All white cheer squad with black mannequin head as the varsity team mascot,” the cheer team’s handle and “This is in San Ramon! Mind you they haven’t had a black girl on the varsity team since 2019 & it was only 1 girl! This year they have no black girls on the varsity except the mascot the black doll head name (sic) Kareem.”
Soon after images were posted on social media platforms Instagram and TikTok, they went viral, and there was a firestorm of comments on the posts and direct messages sent to the team.
“The social media bullying was endless,” said parent Laura Gantt. Laura and her husband Brian Gantt have two girls on the team, including the “featured” student holding the mascot in one of the two photos that circulated. “They were getting DMs that they should kill themselves.”
The cheerleaders’ parents believe the post was fabricated in revenge by an unidentified "disgruntled mother" of an African American student who didn't make the final roster. Specifically they noted the skin color of the mascot was darkened in the photo, the name was changed from Karine to Kareem and it is not an “all white cheer squad” because there are currently six members of the team who identify as African American.
On Monday, May 23, Malloy was interviewed by broadcast news outlets and said, "We don't accept (what happened) and we understand it's wrong. We understand it's harming some members in the community... that is not okay," and that the investigation was ongoing.
Also on May 23, Malloy sent an email to the parents and stakeholders of all of the district’s 36 elementary, middle and high schools that said the district was made aware of the post and the controversy on May 21. The email said the team “has a mascot that has had a hurtful racist impact, and we are deeply troubled by the harm that this situation has caused both in our school community and beyond. The mascot, which is a dark-skinned head that would be used in a cosmetology class, is intolerable for its offensive and racist implications.”
Parents and several community members were upset that Malloy didn’t clarify that the mascot’s skin color was altered to appear darker in the post, the name was changed and there are six members who identify as African American. By not correcting these statements, many said, Malloy basically confirmed it was true.
“I understand there are things that could have been portrayed as being offensive, but that was off the false post,” Brian Gantt said, furthering that he had expected the district and school representatives to insert themselves into the conversation and “clear the girls’ names” or at least investigate and “they would quickly realize this had nothing to do with a racist act but more a tradition.”
“(Malloy) took a fabricated story and ran with it,” Laura Gantt said. “He threw 28 young ladies under the bus.”
During the June 7 SRVUSD Board of Trustees meeting, Laura Gantt took to the podium during public comment and said, “Mr. Malloy, you received hundreds and hundreds of emails from worried parents begging you to retract or update your statement at a minimum, and you refused.
“I am absolutely terrified this label will follow my daughter for the rest of her life. I am fearful it will affect her college applications. And I am most worried about the mental anguish she’s had to endure, all because you, Mr. Malloy, decided to believe lies before doing a full investigation to get to the truth.
“You made the mannequin head offensive by affirming that it was Black,” she said, pointing at Malloy. “You stated several times that people are hurt by this. Do you understand you’re the one who hurt people by way of your affirmation?”
Brian Gantt followed his wife at the podium that evening. He has been in law enforcement for 25 years, a school resource officer for five years and has testified in front of the state senate about changing cyberbullying laws. He said he is “comfortable with cyberbullying laws and how to investigate.”
As an SRO, Brian Gantt said his job when there was an incident such as the one that happened in May was to hear both sides and investigate, to get the facts to get the proper decisions out.
“Malloy, you thought our girls were guilty before you even gave them a chance to prove their innocence,” he said. “It’s now time to hear everyone’s side. Don’t silence the coaches. Don’t silence the girls. And don’t silence Principal Keefer.”
Brian Gantt said Keefer met with the girls, and he quoted what Keefer said during the meeting: “I know you did nothing wrong. I was told not to investigate. This was bigger than the school. I regret not sticking up for you, and I’ll remember this for the rest of my life. I was then forced to put my name on a letter that I didn’t believe in or write myself.”
After public comment, Malloy told the audience he and his cabinet knew the mannequin wasn’t black, that it wasn't named “Kareem” and that the squad was not all white before that Monday morning.
“Everything you shared about the purpose of the mascot, the name of the mascot, how it was used with hair and all the rest, we knew all of that,” he told the large audience.
In an interview with DanvilleSanRamon.com, Malloy said “We did investigate Saturday and Sunday and Monday morning. That investigation did not include the parents and students and I understand they believe it should (have). That investigation included staff and staff did tell us everything the parents believe we didn’t know.”
Malloy and his staff communicated to the community and media that the students did nothing wrong or malicious, and that the continued use of the unofficial mascot was the adults’ fault and not the students’. They also made a decision to not address the skin color of the mannequin, based on a “principle that we’re going to be working on, which is ‘even when we don’t intend to cause harm, we might’,” Malloy said.
He continued that, while there had not been complaints about the mascot before the post, the district heard from community members and beyond after that the existence of the mascot was what caused harm for some.
"Unfortunately a lot of people think it's funny,” Cal High student Rebecca Alioto said of the mascot during a broadcast news interview May 23. "Probably makes a lot of people uncomfortable.”
“We were deliberate about a ‘dark-skinned’ mannequin,” Malloy said. “The reason we were deliberate about that is because when we start talking about shades of skin color, we’re moving into significantly charged space.”
“So we never called any mannequin Black or light, we simply said dark,” he continued. “Our team was actually able to see this mannequin and we stand by the choice of words. But, unfortunately, because of some of the other dynamics around us – not just San Ramon, I’m talking around us – it was taken to another place.”
On May 31, the parents of the cheerleaders sent a demand letter to the board calling for Malloy to be fired.
The letter stated that the district knew everything “including the genesis of the post, the true origins and complexion of their mascot, and the overwhelming, debilitating harassment and threats being directed towards the Cheer Team. Despite being armed with this information, the Administration did the unthinkable. Superintendent Malloy—without undertaking any investigation, whatsoever—started to put out public statements and do media interviews on behalf of the District affirming the false and defamatory allegations in the Disgruntled Mother’s post.”
Regarding the harassment of the team members that Monday and Tuesday, Malloy said he and Keefer did intervene to “stop all negative behavior. Stop the fighting. Stop the name calling,” Malloy said.
Keefer held a webinar for the entire school - staff and students – “so she could talk about what this is and what this isn’t. No one treats anyone, especially the stunt kids, improperly.”
Malloy said parents were asked to continue reporting incidents and, according to Malloy, nothing was reported past Wednesday, May 25. Counselors did reach out to all the cheer team members later that week.
During her comment June 7, Laura Gantt called Malloy “completely disconnected. Nothing has settled for these girls. Nothing has shifted. You have torn apart young lives and divided our community.”
She later said she believes Malloy refused to retract or change his statement because it fit his narrative and justifies the $2 million to hire 15 Equity Liaisons, which was also discussed June 7.
“Our girls have been made sacrificial lambs,” she said.
Brian Gantt said, “All this could have been avoided had (Keefer) been allowed to do her job at a local Cal High campus level. It was bigger than Cal High because there was an agenda. (Malloy) needed this equity (liaison) plan to pass and this was an example of things that were happening on his campuses.”
“It’s simply not true,” Malloy said. “We’ve had an equity plan for a full year. Nothing has changed except this incident and other incidents like it. We have great schools in San Ramon, but there are other issues we’ve contended with across 36 sites. So this isn’t about Cal High, and it isn’t about the stunt team. It’s about that we’ve already had an equity plan as part of strategic directions.”
He continued that the equity plan is “about creating the conditions for learning, and some of our kids have told us they need this assistance. And this situation only exacerbated (the need) to be effective, but quicker.”
According to Malloy, the district doesn’t expect the equity liaisons to be permanent, but more resources are needed to move the plan created over a year ago forward by training all 3,000 staff members.
The Gantts are concerned about the harassment and bullying starting again in the fall, which will be the beginning of their students’ senior year.
“What will he do next year to protect the girls at football games and stunt competitions?” Laura Gantt asked.
“The safety of our students is our top priority. We have already begun looking at our options for additional safety measures at various Cal High activities starting in fall,” said Christopher George, Director of Instruction, Secondary. “As always, we expect the best of our students, and bullying and harassment of any SRVUSD student will not be tolerated. We always respond to any report or concern, and our leadership teams administer appropriate consequences.”
George added that students can also talk to adults on campus or use the Careline online system to report concerns.
“We also have a very close partnership with the three law enforcement agencies that support our 36 schools,” George said. “When and if we see a need for additional support, we call on them, and they are there to confer with us on best practices and to ensure our community feels safe.”
Malloy acknowledged the last few months of the school year were tumultuous, but wants to move forward with the help of parents, students, staff and community members.
“Things have been pretty intense, not just at Cal High,” Malloy said, referring to numerous racially motivated incidents at district schools, such as racist graffiti and use of racial slurs.
“I get that many people have been hurt, including our young people,” he said. “It is our job as a system to be sure issues like this don’t happen.”
“We need to come back together,” Malloy said. “We have a plan going forward into next school year whereby we’re just going to work harder at ensuring that our staff works with our parents and caregivers to understand this concept of ‘I may not have intended to cause harm, but I might have’.”