An otherwise quiet school board election in the Natomas Unified School District took a bizarre turn this week when a letter from the district chastising one of the candidates for using obscene language on school campuses became public.
The letter accuses Sachiko Konatsu of using profanity and making threats when speaking with teachers and school staff at American Lakes Elementary School, Natomas Middle School and the district office last fall.
It warned the mother of four that the district would take legal action to ban her from the campuses and could press criminal charges if the behavior continued.
“We expect respect for our students, teachers, staff administrators and the instructional program,” Cecil Duke, assistant superintendent of student services and safety, said in the letter, which was delivered in December. “Being rude to NUSD staff members, using profanity at meetings and calling staff members inappropriate names is completely unacceptable behavior as it disrupts the educational environment and creates hostility in and around students, parents and staff members.”
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Specifically the letter said Konatsu, 41, called staff members an obscene name on two occasions between Oct. 31 and Nov. 22. On Nov. 8, the letter said, she threatened an administrator. On Nov. 18, she used a derogatory name to refer to a principal and said a director of an after-school program was “retarded and that you would get him fired,” according to the letter.
District officials said Konatsu never officially disputed the allegations.
On Friday, the candidate was out of town because of a family emergency and couldn’t return calls from The Sacramento Bee for comment, according to Richard Wake, her campaign consultant.
Wake would not confirm or deny the contents of the letter, saying, “We have no further comment because we consider this to be a pending legal matter where counsel is being obtained.”
Briza Trujillo, the candidate’s campaign manager, said the district’s letter is the culmination of years of mistreatment of Konatsu. “There is a lot of things having to do with her advocating for her special-needs child in the district, and it got to that point that they had to come up with that letter,” Trujillo said.
Wake said he has sent the district a public records request seeking additional information, including audio tapes of the alleged incidents. “We are obtaining all the information,” he said. “We respectfully ask voters not to judge until all the information is available.”
School board member Lisa Kaplan, who is running for re-election, would not comment on the content of the letter but acknowledged the board was made aware of problems with Konatsu before the letter was sent.
“I think the education of our children and the safety of our children is the foremost on any parent’s mind. However, how we conduct ourselves can always be professional, and it’s never OK to threaten or be abusive toward staff,” Kaplan said.
Board member Ryan Herche threw his support behind Konatsu earlier this month, despite the allegations. “I think there are two sides to every story, and people should withhold judgment and wait for the facts to come out,” he said, calling Konatsu “an independent thinker that will bring an independent voice to the board. She will speak truth to power.”
Herche, who said he has no reason to “disbelieve the letter,” is “withholding judgment until I see evidence.” He said he may reassess his position “as things change.”
The letter came to light after a community member made a California Public Records Act request to obtain it, Kaplan said. She received a copy of the letter via email within the last 10 days, she said. The Bee received copies of the letter from various sources this week.
The Democratic Party of Sacramento has called an emergency meeting to consider withdrawing support for Konatsu. Chairwoman Kerri Asbury said she received the letter in her email just days after the organization’s Sept. 11 endorsement. “I’m a teacher ... and that is very alarming to me,” Asbury said.
Konatsu, 41, is a psychiatric technician who works for the state prison system, according to her campaign website. She is one of four candidates running at large for two seats on the school board. Incumbents Kaplan, 38, an education attorney, and Teri Burns, 56, an education consultant, and challenger Jag Bains, 36, an assistant civil engineer, also are running.