Controversial Michigan Board Trustee has history of confrontation, questioned whether a tardy policy and perfect attendance lunch were ‘vetted through a DEI lens,’ emails reveal
Jackson Public Schools Board Trustee Kesha Hamilton, whose recent comments made national news, has a history of confrontation with the district superintendent. Emails show that Hamilton, who runs an equity consulting firm, questioned whether district policies such as student tardiness had been “vetted through a DEI lens.” The trustee would also intervene on student issues despite being warned multiple times to allow district staff to handle daily operations.
In February 2022, Hamilton filed a complaint against Superintendent Jeff Beal alleging “harassment, bullying, threats and refusal to follow a directive in an appropriate time frame.” The document states that Hamilton claims Beal was “‘totally disrespecting that I’m his boss.'” The report concluded that there was no alleged harassment or bullying by the superintendent. It further stated that an “individual Board Trustee is not the Superintendent’s ‘superior’ or ‘supervisor’ or ‘boss.'”
An email from Hamilton in August 2021 asks how “we address teachers whose students or parents are impacted negatively by teachers actions.” She states that she is “really concerned” about an incident that occurred with a student. “The process was a nightmare for her and her parents and our response as the admin team was very concerning to me as a board member and as a parent.”
In response, the superintendent states that teacher evaluations are “governed by Michigan Law” and that he is not “as concerned about the interaction” between the student and the teacher as Hamilton is. He continues by pointing out that the student “circumvented the chain of command and missed having a crucial conversation with [the] teacher because [they] went straight to you.” The superintendent points out that the student’s “parents should have been redirected to the principal” and that “the number of points a student earns on a class participation grade is likely something that could have been and should have been handled at the classroom level.” He finishes by stating that “board level intervention at this level is inappropriate.”
In a follow-up email, Hamilton starts by stating that she was “unclear” in her request and “feel free to call if you don’t understand after this.” She further clarifies that the incident was “referenced because I was privy to this issue – she isn’t the only teacher that students or parents are complaining about. I can see how that would have confused you.”
She also states: “It is not lost on me that any disagreement or any question that makes you uncomfortable prompts a belligerent form of communication from you. This is a problem and one I’d like to see you get further professional development on.” Hamilton comments that she understands that the “lens” he views students and their parents through is his own and “a reflection of the life you’ve lived” and “it is not a universal lens.”
A final response from the superintendent states that Hamilton’s “activity tends to get in the weeds of operations vs at the policy level.” He reiterates that when students and parents reach out to her, she “should send them my way and I will follow up with them.”
In a chain of emails ranging from December 2020 to March 2021, Hamilton comments about the “workload” related to “our marginalized and low income/poverty stricken [sic] group.”
On December 23, 2020, the superintendent responds:
This is my advice, so please take this with the good spirit it is intended for, when a parent calls you or let’s [sic] you know they have a concern, find out the student name, the building or teacher and then forward that message to myself, or … We will follow up with the concern and see that it is resolved. This gets you out of the middle of trying to resolve a concern with only part of the information. We will let you know when we have taken care of the issue and you can then follow up with the individual. Often times the first line in the conversation should be, “have you talked to the teacher, I will have them call you.”
In a spring 2022 email exchange, Hamilton inquired about the district tardy policy, restorative practices, and racial demographics of the students involved. The trustee asks if this policy was “vetted through a DEI lens?” The administrator response stated that the policy had not been “vetted through a DEI lens as all of our students regardless of race have the ability and expectation to make it to class on time.”
In November 2022, Hamilton questions whether a “perfect attendance luncheon/reward” was “vetted through a Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) lens?” She states that the reward “unfairly excluded many J. Lewis students for something that they have absolutely no control over.”
Hamilton claims that “hosting a luncheon/reward for perfect attendance while excluding the majority of J. Lewis student population, again due to no fault of their own, was erroneous & discriminatory.”
In an exchange with a board member from another district, it was shared with Hamilton that they would “be a phenomenal group to do equity and empowerment consulting specifically for school boards.” The email continues: “There is so much that MASB won’t tell its members. Namely, that most areas of the law afford Boards of Education tons of powers that we just assumed could only be exercised by the Superintendent.” The email also states that “somebody has got to help boards of education see that they have the power and responsibility to ensure that their policies are followed by their employees.” Hamilton operates her own DEI consulting firm Diverse Minds Consulting.