Folsom keeps popular teacher after hundreds, including Sac State coach, offer support

Facing an avalanche of community support, the Folsom Cordova Unified school board let a popular Folsom teacher keep his job after a long, emotional meeting Thursday night.

Board members rejected the motion to terminate Vista del Lago math and physical education teacher Sham Sidhu in a 4-1 vote, with board member Ed Short the only member approving the termination.

Board members listened to dozens of tearful pleas from Folsom parents, students and colleagues who asked that the district keep Sidhu on staff.

The district said it was legally prohibited from disclosing what the issue was and Sidhu’s family members declined to elaborate. But the news of Sidhu’s possible termination traveled throughout Folsom, even reaching former students who live out of state.

Hundreds of parents, students, alumni, and Folsom Cordova Unified teachers filled the board room and lobby Thursday evening in support of Sidhu, who has worked in the district for nearly two decades. District officials noted the crowd was unprecedented for a school board meeting.

Sacramento State football coach Troy Taylor, who coached at Folsom High, spoke to the board on behalf of Sidhu.

“I don’t think I would have this many people at my funeral,” Troy told the board.

The board members said they received more than 150 emails in the last 24 hours in support of Sidhu.

“I am confident that we understand where the community stands,” said board president JoAnne Reinking.

The district office ran out of public comment cards at the board meeting as hundreds of people filled the board meeting and the lobby to speak in support of Sidhu.

Attendees were largely uncertain why the district debated to terminate Sidhu, but many of them called the reasons “trivial accusations.”

The teachers union, the Folsom Cordova Education Association, declined to comment, citing the situation as a personnel matter.

The board meeting was especially emotional – and the decision equally controversial – because Sidhu’s 21-year-old daughter is battling a brain tumor that returned earlier this year.

Both of Sidhu’s children took to the dais asking the board to allow their father to keep his job. Their mother no longer works so that she could take Cassidy Sidhu to her cancer treatments in the Bay Area.

People shed tears as Cassidy Sidhu spoke. Without a job, Sham Sidhu would no longer have the insurance to pay for her brother’s insulin and her cancer treatment, Cassidy Sidhu said.

“This is a very difficult time for both my family and me,” said Cassidy Sidhu. “My dad has always raised my brother and I to be polite, honest and always work hard. Most importantly, he taught us to fight for everything we believe in, and I hope that this board makes the right decision and continues to let my dad teach.”

Parents recounted stories of how Sidhu would arrive at their homes to encourage their struggling young athletes to join him on the softball field. Other students and parents recalled how Sidhu supported their battles with cancer, as a father of a child with cancer himself. Myriad students said Sidhu met them every day with cheerful greetings and a fist bump.

“Hes been the most influential teacher,” Vista del Lago student Bryson Boone said. Boone is set to be Sidhu’s teacher assistant next school year. “This would be a huge letdown next year.”

“He greets every student by name, and makes a huge contribution to this school and this community,” said Vista del Lago teacher Verna Verspieren, who was joined by several other Folsom Cordova teachers.

Jim Noble, head of physical education at Folsom High School, attended the meeting in support of Sidhu and offered the board an alternative solution: hire Sidhu at Folsom High School – a request that was met with boos from rival Vista del Lago parents and students.

Former Folsom High principal Paul Richards brought stacks of documents to the dais, all positive reviews of Sidhu during his teaching years at Folsom High.

“And suddenly in 2019, he’s deficient?” Richards asked the board. “Give him another evaluation.”

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.