Jeff Johnston offered an apology to about 20 members of the Lodi Middle School faculty who were present at the Lodi Unified School District board meeting Tuesday.
"I have asked you to do the same thing over and over again and to expect different results," said the president of the Lodi Education Association. "That is the definition of insanity."
Each teacher wore a shiny green ribbon pinned to his or her shirt proclaiming, 'Be a buddy, not a bully.'
An anonymous donor who wanted to make sure the school staff had a way to visibly stand together provided the ribbons.
Many also wore black wristbands stating 'Band against bullying,' and school spirit shirts.
They stood in silent support during Johnston's comments as he pleaded for the board to find a solution where he had failed.
These comments were in reaction to the incident in late December in which vice principal Lurdes Rosales placed physical education teacher Jon Lapachet under citizen's arrest. Johnston saw that incident as the boiling point of a deteriorating environment of distrust and suspicion.
Lapachet stood among the staff, and Rosales was also present. None offered comment to the board or the media.
Johnston said he and his predecessor Sue Kenmotsu have both tried various approaches to mediate between the staff and administration to restore trust and a sense of collaboration, but it hasn't worked. He confirmed that friction between the staff and administration has been ongoing, but has escalated this year.
"People who trust other people don't arrest them," he said after the meeting. Johnston said the ribbons were to remind staff to stand up against bullying and to bring a buddy when meeting with their administrators. The staff has rallied around the idea of anti-bullying.
"It takes place in the adult world, too," he said.
School principal Patricia Lingerfeldt grew emotional as seven parents and volunteers took the podium and vouched for her as an administrator later in the meeting.
"I'm very happy with the education my son is receiving. Everything I have seen with Mrs. Lingerfeldt has been exceptional," said Lenora Swearingen, urging the board to talk to students at the school as the district continues their investigation.
"I've had to deal with many teachers. Many teachers are big bullies at Lodi Middle School," said Liz Halloran, who volunteers at the school.
Others indicated that the teachers were inhibiting the ability of administrators to do their work.
"Mrs. Lingerfeldt is doing the best job teachers allow her to do," said Misty Traylor, president of the parent-teacher association. She compared the wish of the teachers for a happy working environment to that of her kids wanting to always get their way.
"My kids hope that if they kick and scream long enough, they'll get their way, and they probably will," she said.
Trustee Bonnie Cassel thanked the parents for their comments.
"This situation needs to be studied very thoroughly in all angles," she said.
Joe Nava thanked the teachers' union for their message.
"Unhappy teachers have a real problem educating students. They need a safe and supportive environment," he said.
Teachers at Lodi Middle School feel this incident and the following investigation have damaged the school's reputation.
Sherry Alexander has taught at Lodi Middle for 19 years. She is saddened that she is stopped at the grocery store to discuss the situation at her school, instead of the 15-point jump in API scores.
"It's time to rebuild on all levels," she said after the meeting. "Our whole district is based on no bullying . . . If all of us adhere to that rule of thumb, we'll all get along a lot better."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.