Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Texting tensions: Austin addresses recent controversy

‘CAN’T REGRET IT’ — Superintendent Don Austin reflects on his past behavior amid controversy about his texts to a school board member. “I can’t take the constant lies and attacks,” he wrote on May 18. Photo: Eva Chang

Additional reporting by Eva Chang.

“I can’t take the constant lies and attacks,” Superintendent Don Austin wrote. The day was May 18, and Austin was in the midst of two related challenges. The first was a tussle with a school board member over her former campaign manager’s online postings. The second was coming to terms with and seeking help for the mental health crisis he was experiencing.

An Aug. 30  article published in the Palo Alto Daily Post exposed text messages from May between Austin and school board member Shana Segal.

In most cases, Verde would not publish a conversation that seems so private in nature. However, given Austin’s status as a public figure, Verde has decided the matter is sufficiently in the public interest.

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The text exchange began May 18, when Austin sent a series of messages to Segal addressing online criticsm of him from Segal’s former campaign manager, Gayle McDowell. In the messages, Austin urges Segal to make her stance on him known.

“Seriously, just own it and it will be easier,” he said. “I am ready to go out soon. I can’t take the constant lies and attacks. You guys can pick the next person … I’m done.”

Austin urged Segal to publicize her stance on him at the next board meeting, saying “I will have an army watching.” Austin told her that counselors, school administrators, family members and neighbors of his were “all lined up” for the upcoming meeting.

Seriously, just own it and it will be easier. I am ready to go out soon. I can’t take the constant lies and attacks.”

— Don Austin, Superintendent

In talking with Verde, Austin declined to specifically address the text messages published in the Post. However, when asked if there was any other behavior from this time period that he regrets, Austin said he “can’t regret it.”

“Was I snappy with some people?” Austin said. “Yeah, for sure. But I’m going to give myself permission to not regret it. Because if you regret it, that means that you were totally in control of it. And I wasn’t. So were there things where I was acting differently than I would today? For sure … I think if I had a regret it would be not being strong enough to get help earlier. I regret that … But the other stuff? No, there’s no regrets there.”

As a result of his experience, Austin led an overhaul of the district’s mental health resources for teachers and staff. These changes have included hiring an in-house staff mental health specialist that teachers and staff can call for support. Austin said that he has received messages from PAUSD teachers thanking him for these recent changes.

“Another teacher I really respect wrote me and said ‘Thanks man,’ and she made her appointment [with the PAUSD in-house staff mental health specialist] that day,” he said. “But [she] also said ‘It’s really brave [to share the story] because some people are gonna use it against you.’ And they have. Some people suck.”

Austin said that sharing his story has garnered criticisms online.

“There [were] people even yesterday posting pretty mean things, saying that I’m whining about things and criticism and having ‘wah wah wah’ after it and just further attacking,” he said. “Now, they don’t get a space in my head … At the end of the day, a good friend of mine said, ‘Well, it’s hard. You get to be you and they have to be them.’ And that’s just how I have to resign myself and so some people take pleasure out of hurting other people. I’m not one of them, but I’m very aware that they exist.”

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