Tuesday, Feb. 7 was a chilly morning for an outdoor meeting, but that did not deter dozens of parents from attending a 9am discussion of the board of the Carmel Unified School District. Many remarked upon the cold while most of the meeting took place behind closed doors, with just one item on the day’s agenda: a discussion about a personnel matter. 

The board unanimously voted in closed session to remove Jon Lyons as principal of Carmel High School by the end of the 2022-23 school year. He remains employed by the district, but has been on leave since Dec. 16 and remains on leave. He will then be reassigned to a different position pending the outcome of an external investigation, in which two investigators are looking into accusations of the mishandling of complaints related to alleged misconduct, one looking at staff, one at students. 

“This internal investigation uncovered behavior that is detrimental to the safety of Carmel High students and staff, and the decision to place Mr. Lyons on paid administrative leave was made pending a formal, external investigation,” CUSD Superintendent Ted Knight wrote in a letter to the campus community after the board meeting. That external investigation is still ongoing, and details remain sparse. 

In 2021, the school newspaper The Sandpiper reported that dozens of former and current students shared allegations of sexual assault and harrament on social media, and that many students felt their allegations were overlooked. Itzél Rios-Ellis, a prolific artist and 2020 graduate, sparked a conversation on sexual abuse and harrassment when she shared her story on Instagram while she was a sophomore at Carmel High, and encouraged others to do the same. 

“Carmel Unified has, unfortunately, been plagued with a longstanding, systemic issue of failure in both the reporting and investigation of employee, student and community complaints involving sexual harassment,” Knight, who is also CUSD’s Title IX coordinator and civil rights compliance officer, shared in his Feb. 7 letter. The initial investigation was forwarded to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department.

“I was asked to come in here and fix this and put processes in place,” Knight says in an interview. “What I've uncovered is years of neglect, years of systemic failure. I am not going to allow it to continue.

“I think that's making some people uncomfortable; they would rather defame me.”

That’s where what looks like a personnel matter detours into broader divisions in the CUSD community. About 20 parents spoke to the board, mostly in support of keeping Lyons; some claim Lyons is facing retaliation for proper handling of student complaints. Several parents are calling upon the board to terminate Knight. A sheriff’s deputy was called at the end of the meeting to ask people to leave. 

Knight says he is in the process of looking for an attorney to represent him personally, for potential defamation and also for his own employment at CUSD. The district is no stranger to turnover: Knight was hired in 2021, the sixth superintendent in six years. 

Lyons also attended the meeting on Feb. 7 and sat in the first row, stone-faced and wearing a gray blazer. He says he is disappointed by the board’s decision and doesn’t know what he will do next. “I’m worried about my own children,” Lyons says of his kids, who are CUSD students. “They’re going to answer some questions from their friends.” 

Parents in attendance expressed frustration about a lack of clarity regarding what was happening. Some thought the meeting would cover issues of harassment more generally, but the day's agenda was specific to a decision about whether to discipline Lyons. 

"I dropped everything I was doing to make sure to come down here," says Anthony Carnazzo, who attended the meeting. Several parents raised concerns alleging the district moved personnel with misconduct records to other campuses. Carnazzo says more transparency is needed; he adds he would be concerned if staff with similar records were transferred to his son's school.

(1) comment

Veronica Wheeler

I was at the meeting. The reporter completely muddled Anthony’s quote at the end of the article. He was not referring to Lyons on that.

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