A shocking silence fell in the Carmel Middle School library on Wednesday night, Feb. 15, after Tess Arthur resigned from her role as president of Carmel Unified School District’s board of trustees.

“I have a passion for education. Working directly with children is where I am most effective,” Arthur said. “I need to pursue my calling and return to opportunities where I can work directly with children. I'll be stepping down immediately and passing things over to Sarah Hinds.”

Arthur’s resignation astonished parents and fellow board members alike. Over the past few weeks, the district and Carmel High School have been at the center of allegedly mishandling a complaint related to misconduct, resulting in the removal of CHS principal Jon Lyons during a special meeting on Feb. 7.


Many who spoke at the board meeting on Feb. 15 described a division among the CUSD community. Some parents claimed the district administration has been hostile since Superintendent Ted Knight came on board, sparking division among parents. 

“There are members of this community who are trying to bully the board and/or Dr. Knight into doing things that are outright illegal,” CUSD board member Anne Marie Rosen fiercely said during the meeting. 

Over 30 members of the public spoke during the board meeting. Parents shared their anger, confusion, frustration, or support for one faction or the other. Several spoke in support of Lyons, while others requested a vote of no confidence be taken against Knight. 

Knight has always been open to speak with the media. After the Feb. 15 board meeting, a CUSD spokesperson issued a statement that read: “In the best interest of our students, and for the staff involved in the media stories, we will only be providing one written comment to all media and will make no further comment.

“There have no doubt been some very difficult decisions put before the Carmel Unified administration and our board of education. As with any personnel issue, there is information that cannot be shared and the community rarely knows the whole story. The district has been consistent in its message about current situations and will not litigate these in the media or in the community.” 

Lyons, who on Feb. 15 asked the board for a second chance and to get his job back, feels he was not treated fairly. He says he only talked with the district’s lawyer once and there were no follow-ups during the investigation. Lyons points out assistant principals, both of whom are still working at CHS, where primarily in charge of handling and reviewing sexual harrasment and sexual assault complaints on campus. 

Contrasting views about how Lyons handled sexual harassment and abuse cases were presented during the meeting on Wednesday night. 

Nora Ward, a CHS teacher for 20 years, said sexual abuse and harrasment has been prevalent on campus since she started working there. Ward said over the past two years, during Lyons’ tenure, the high school did a better job of addressing these complaints than in the 20 years prior. “This man [Lyons] has been one of the biggest supporters of victims I’ve ever seen,” Ward said. 

On the other hand, Elizabeth Lindholm, a former student who graduated last year said one of her best friends was assaulted by a CHS student, who was not punished: “He was walking around with no consequences.”

Lyons says he remembers the case Lindholm was talking about, and he says he recommended expulsion. “All I do is make a recommendation that goes to the board and the superintendent to make a final determination about expulsion,” Lyons says.

Sexual abuse and harrament cases came to light in 2021. The CHS school newspaper The Sandpiper reported that dozens of former and current students shared allegations of sexual assault and harassment on social media. Itzél Rios-Ellis, a 2020 graduate, sparked a conversation on sexual abuse and harassment when she shared her story on Instagram while she was a sophomore at Carmel High, and encouraged others to do the same. Lyons, who started in July of 2019, says Rios-Ellis’ case happened before he became principal. He says he and Kevin Gross, a school resource officer, tried to get in contact with her and to get further information, but that’s as far as it went; “she didn't want to talk to us.”

Rios-Ellis shared on Instagram she was happy to learn about Lyons’ termination. “The administration at Carmel High really didn’t do a single thing for any of us and I’m so relieved to know that there are people  who are committing themselves to being there for their students in this incredible great way.” She also added she was proud of herself and others who came forward sharing their experiences. (She could not be reached for an interview.) 

Barry J. Bennett, a Fresno-based attorney representing Lyons, writes in a letter that it was difficult since the beginning to get information from the district as to what Lyons is accused of—information that still has not been publicly released. Lyons was first placed on administrative leave on Dec. 16, and an investigation is still pending. 

“While the precise subject of the interview is confidential, it is significant to note, in light of the

superintendent’s later misleading press release, the following: There was no allegation of anything resembling criminal or criminally negligent activity on Mr. Lyons’ part, and no questions about any ‘pattern of misconduct’ on the part of Mr. Lyons, but rather the inquiry centered around a remark made by him at the meeting in question that may have been misconstrued,” Bennett writes. “Mr. Lyons was cooperative throughout.”

After the tense public comment period on Wednesday night, the board met for about three-and-a-half hours in closed session to talk about two personnel matters: One about discipline and possible termination of an unspecified employee, on which the board took no action. On the second item, a performance evaluation of Knight, the board announced they would hire an “independent, external consultant to conduct a review of the superintendent’s actions in relation to recent personnel matters.”

That decision was in keeping with a request made by Knight earlier in the meeting, suggesting the board hire such a third party. 

Writing by email the day after her resignation, Arthur adds it was prompted in part by the feeling of division: “Part of my decision was made because there are many divisions in our community and l am a unifier. The community needs to breathe, trust, and find common ground instead of differences.

“Our common ground is our students. When you unite for students, you can accomplish great things. At this point, I feel that I am most effective working directly with kids.”


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