Credit: Orange Unified/YouTube
The article was updated on Jan. 6 with information about newly elected board member Madison Klovstad Miner.

With one day’s notice during winter recess, a conservative majority on the Orange Unified school board fired respected Supt. Gunn Marie Hansen with no explanation after a closed-door meeting Thursday night.

The vote followed impassioned public comments from parents, teachers and community members who pleaded with them to change their minds on what they anticipated was coming. They warned them of the consequences, including expensive litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance payments. As the board members were voting, parents began circulating petitions for a recall election that will plunge the 26,000 student district into further conflict.

“Give this time and thought, for your future, our future. This is really ill-thought through move,” said Jeanne Matson, an elementary teacher and resident of the district.

Orange Unified became the second district in Orange County to fire its leader in a month. Just before Christmas, newly empowered conservatives in Capistrano Unified, the state’s ninth largest district, dismissed long-time Supt. Kristen Vital Brulte by a 4-3 vote.

By the same one-vote margin, Orange Unified’s board put Hansen on paid administrative leave during a 30-day notice of termination. The board also placed Cathleen Corella, the district’s assistant superintendent of education, on immediate paid administrative leave pending an “academic audit,” according to their resolutions.

Reflecting sharp divisions in the community, the board flipped in November when Madison Klovstad Miner, a former speech therapist with Santa Clara Unified, defeated 22-year board member Kathy Moffat, by 0.2% – 221 votes out of 61,845 votes cast. Three incumbents, board President Rick Ledesma, who led the dismissal effort, and two who backed Hansen, Kris Erickson and Andrea Yamasaki, won re-election. Ledesma and conservative candidates had run on a “parents’ rights” and complained about masks and school closures during Covid and about classroom instructions on race, critical race theory in particular, and gender.

Among the supporters she cited in her Ballotpedia answers, Miner listed the three other board members who ousted Hansen and described herself as “an educator, mama bear of four children and active participant in the Orange Unified community for the last 37 years.” Her top three priorities if elected would be to “cut wasteful spending and return tax dollars to the classrooms,” “protect our parents’ rights with medical and school choice decisions,” and  “adopt better options to replace the current ethnic studies and sex ed curriculum.”

In a comment in which she left the dais with the other board members to comment from the audience, Erickson responded, “Just because can do something does not mean you should do something. Elections have consequences; 221 votes not make a mandate and don’t pretend it does.”

As did others, she called Hansen a “qualified and loved” superintendent who brought the district back to normal, earlier than other districts in the county, following Covid. “Now, are you going to burn it down by firing the CEO?”

Only one of five-dozen speakers, amid two hundred in the audience defended the pending dismissal. She identified herself as a Hispanic parent who complained that low-income schools were not receiving enough funding and that test scores had dropped for several years.

The others, in comments from furious to tearful, alternated from castigating to trying to reason with the board. One woman cited Scripture and appealed to board members’ faith. Hansen and Corella “care and are devoted to students,” she said. “Reach deep and think about your integrity.”

Speakers noted that Hansen, honored as superintendent of the year in Orange County by the PTA, received only positive reviews during her five years as superintendent. One quoted Ledesma’s high praise in a review of the superintendent.

Neither Hansen nor Corella was at the meeting. Both were said to be out of the country during winter vacation, with Hansen treating an ailing parent.

Credit: Orange Unified/YouTube

Sara Pelley

Sara Pelly, the principal at Fletcher Mandarin Language & GATE Academy, told board members, “I work for you and this is your decision but I suggest you not make it in haste. Collect information for what is best for kids.”

The board members appointed Edward Velazquez, a former superintendent of Montebello and Lynwood unified school districts, as the interim superintendent.

They also appointed Craig Abercrombie, principal of Canyon High in Orange Unified, as assistant superintendent.

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  1. Martha McNicholas 1 week ago1 week ago

    John Fensterwald: The headline is incorrect: “Just before Christmas, newly empowered conservatives in Capistrano Unified dismissed that district’s long-time superintendent.” The newly elected Trustees would not at all be considered conservatives.

  2. Desmond 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This is nonsense. Average citizens can’t just sit here and watch this. I think someone should start a petition to fire the bad school board persons and hire the superintendent and her assistant back to their original jobs. The bad part of the school board will not win!

  3. Alessandro Hernandez 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I’m a student in the OUSD, and firing Superintendent Hansen is not a good idea. I’ve met her in-person during my class, showing her our work at our GATE class. She is so nice, and I find no reason why this was made when schools were still closed. One of my teachers, Karin Barone, was one of many people who made a speech during the given time for public opinions. Shame on the people who voted to fire her.

  4. Mark Theissen 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    While I was not at the meeting, the meeting seems like it was decided before it started. Making this kind of decision without those affected by it being able to attend is a travesty. I went to high high school with Rick Ledesma and always voted for my fellow Vanguard. I now hope that Rick Ledesma is recalled. He has been on the board too long and needs to be removed.

  5. Stacey Ortega 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Please note that Brenda Lebsack left the OUSD Board after some questionable behavior. She is also using this comments section to push her agenda via her website. She has every right to it, but should be more transparent.

  6. el 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Burning it down is easy. Building it is hard.

    Regardless of this board’s policy issue with their superintendent, firing them unexpectedly during winter break can only cause harm, harm that will reverberate onto staff and students.

  7. Karin Barone 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    There is an incorrect fact in this article. Newly appointed board member Madison Miner has never been a Speech Pathologist. She has never held a credential or certification in this area. You can easily.look it up in the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing website. She ran on this in her campaign materials and eventually removed it from some because she knew it was false and people in the community called her out on it. The … Read More

    There is an incorrect fact in this article. Newly appointed board member Madison Miner has never been a Speech Pathologist. She has never held a credential or certification in this area. You can easily.look it up in the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing website. She ran on this in her campaign materials and eventually removed it from some because she knew it was false and people in the community called her out on it. The only certificate she holds is a substitute teaching permit.

  8. A Orange USD parent 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Brenda Lebsack is another anti-science, education-in-name only conservative. Not surprised that she supports others like her. Shame on Madison Klovstad Miner and Rick Ledesma

  9. Brenda Lebsack - Former OUSD Board Member - Teacher 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    As a former OUSD board member (2016-2020), I do not know the reasons for the board's actions and I was not at the meeting. However, I know these board members were voted in by the community majority to represent them. They were not endorsed by the Orange Unified Educator's Association (OUEA). In order to do their job they need leadership they can trust. As a member of the teachers' union, I … Read More

    As a former OUSD board member (2016-2020), I do not know the reasons for the board’s actions and I was not at the meeting. However, I know these board members were voted in by the community majority to represent them. They were not endorsed by the Orange Unified Educator’s Association (OUEA). In order to do their job they need leadership they can trust. As a member of the teachers’ union, I can tell you firsthand that the state union (CTA) is all about “sneaky politics” that removes parent rights and does not advocate for non-English speaking immigrants. I have plenty of evidence for this. Here’s a few:

    https://brenda4kids.com/index.php/our-media/does-the-california-teachers-association-cta-represent-the-majority-of-teachers-views

    https://brenda4kids.com/index.php/our-media/padres-hispanos-discriminados-de-participar-en-la-educacion-de-sus-hijos

    These board members are NOT controlled by union politics.

  10. Terril Holloway 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Thank you to all the parents who had the courage to stand up for their children.