Hiring of former judge Persky stirs controversy


News Section

Graphic illustration depicting overlays of several headlines from coverage of Persky’s hiring.

Sunny Li and Anusha Kothari

Michael Aaron Persky, former judge on the Superior Court of California for Santa Clara County, was hired as the JV girls tennis coach for the 2019-20 school year on Sept. 2. However, due to Persky’s controversial history as a judge, this decision caused many members of the community to voice their opinions in support of and against his hiring. Shortly after, on Sept. 11, FUHSD released a statement indicating that Persky’s employment as the JV tennis coach had ended.

Persky’s hiring was controversial because he lost his seat as a judge on the Santa Clara County  Superior Court of California due to a special recall election in 2018. His recall was a result of the backlash he faced after his decision on the People v. Turner case in 2015. Brock Turner, a Stanford student, was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault and Persky sentenced him to six month’s confinement in the county jail, of which Turner served half of the sentence, followed by three years of probation and registration as a lifelong sex offender. Immediately following his decision, the public widely criticized him and believed that his decision reflected race, class, and gender bias

In 2018, more than 80,000 signatures were collected to put the vote for Persky’s recall on the state elections ballot and Santa Clara County voters supported his recall with a margin of 61.51 percent to 38.49 percent. Public outrage caused by the case led the California State Legislature to pass two laws that broadened the definition of rape and created a mandatory minimum sentence for sexual assault of an intoxicated or unconscious person. 

Lynbrook administration stated that Persky’s historied past did not initially catch their attention during the hiring process as Persky applied under a different name than the one he used previously. As a judge, he was referred to as ‘Aaron Persky,’ Aaron being his middle name, whereas Perksy was known as Michael Aaron Persky to staff and students.

In a statement released on Sept. 10, FUHSD explained that Persky had applied to be the coach over the summer and met all necessary requirements including a fingerprint background check, which checks for the criminal record; Persky was not a convicted criminal so he cleared the check. They further defended his position to coach by mentioning that he held a high rating from the United States Tennis Association and had attended several coaching clinics, making him a highly qualified candidate. 

After learning about his background, the school held a meeting for staff on the morning of Sept. 9 to inform them about the situation as word had begun spreading through the community. The meeting consisted of all Lynbrook staff and administration. 

[My] biggest concern is that when you have a job that’s specifically related to what you’re very controversial for, it’s going to be given that your moral decisions have weight on what happens in the future.

— Maya Abiram, girls' varsity tennis co-captain

Around the same time that administration and staff became aware of Persky’s role as the well-known judge in People v. Turner, parents and students in the Lynbrook community heard the news and began voicing their opinion. As a result, a closed meeting between the Principal Maria Jackson, Superintendent Polly Bove, athletic director Jennifer Griffin, additional members of administration, the JV girls’ tennis team and their parents was held on Sept. 9 to clarify and discuss the situation. 

The administration received considerable backlash from the Lynbrook community and the general public; in fact, two petitions were started by Lynbrook alumni urging the school to fire Persky. They believed that Persky’s controversial decision in People v. Turner reflected poorly on his character and revealed race, gender and class biases. There were concerns about his position as a coach to serve as a role model to teenage girls and the message that his employment may send to high school students, especially survivors of sexual assault. 

“I feel that working in a school with children is not suitable for him because education is founded on trust and integrity [among students and staff],” said Lynbrook and Stanford alumna Sunny Wu, who graduated from Lynbrook in 2015 and from Stanford in 2019. “I think hiring Persky to coach girls was absolutely the wrong call because of his concerning history with the Brock Turner case; that was just tainted with a lack of trust and a lack of integrity.”

Similarly, others elaborate that there a number of available jobs other than coaching a high school sports team that he can apply for. 

“[My] biggest concern is that when you have a job that’s specifically related to what you’re very controversial for, it’s going to be given that your moral decisions have weight on what happens in the future,” said senior and girls’ varsity tennis co-captain Maya Abiram. “If you make a decision that carries a lot of weight, it is still going to affect you in the long run, because people can see that and people know that. Even though you can change, there are consequences that you have to deal with.”

Others, however, did not believe the administration should fire Persky as coach, believing that he deserves a second chance. Those in favor of Persky being coach cited that the People v. Turner case took place three years ago in 2016, and an individual could significantly grow or change during that time. They also believed that his past would not necessarily affect his coaching abilities. 

The people who were most enraged by this were people that never met him, like alumni. I don’t think they should have taken that into as much consideration as the voices of the people who are actually in contact with him.

— Aditi Chockalingam, JV girls tennis player

“I thought the backlash Persky received was unfair because even though the vast majority of people disagree with his ruling it was legally warranted,” said senior Anna Chiang. “I feel for him because he is probably trying to start up his life again but it’s incredibly difficult.”

Moreover, numerous athletes on the JV Girls’ tennis team who trained directly with Persky had a positive experience with him as coach. 

“[Persky] is a genuinely nice person who was trying to make it work,” said JV girls tennis player Amy Zhou. “Every time we gave him some advice on how to be a better coach, he took it into account and started working on it immediately. Since I know him as a person, it is just so heartbreaking to see everyone treat him like they did.”

Some expressed frustration that their voices were overshadowed by those of the more vocal protesters. In their view, their opinions on Persky should logically outweigh those of the people who would never interact with him directly.

“The people who were most enraged by this were people that never met him, like alumni,” said JV girls tennis player Aditi Chockalingam. “I don’t think they should have taken that into as much consideration as the voices of the people who are actually in contact with him. I feel like that should outweigh the outside a lot more.” 

Without Persky, the JV girls’ tennis team were worried that they would be left without a qualified adult to serve as coach. For the rest of the season, history teacher Nhat Nguyen is coaching the team and has been with the team for 3 weeks. Although Nguyen has never coached tennis before, he has extensive experience playing and coaching badminton. 

The situation and controversy surrounding Persky caused a significant amount of media attention for Lynbrook, particularly for the administration and the tennis team. Both prominent and local publications such as NBC, The Washington Post, The Stanford Daily and The Mercury News continually contacted players and administration to comment and news vans could be seen in front of Lynbrook’s campus. Members of the Lynbrook community as well as the general public emailed and called the Lynbrook administration to express their viewpoints, many of which were filled with strong emotions. 

The increased media attention caused frustration among the JV Girls’ tennis team and eventually led to Persky’s termination as coach at Lynbrook High School. A follow-up statement from FUHSD explained that this decision was made in the “best interests” of their students and school community in an effort to “[ensure] that the girls on the JV tennis team are able to have a successful season.”  

Strong feelings fueled both sides of the issue, with some opposing Persky’s position as a coach and others defending his employment status. Those who disapproved of his hiring argued that Persky was not suited for the position due to his decision in People v. Turner while those who supported keeping him as a coach believed in giving Persky a second chance and in trusting his coaching abilities. As of now, Nguyen will temporarily coach the team for the rest of this season.

Read the Epic‘s stance on the firing of Michael Aaron Persky here: https://lhsepic.com/5848/opinion/editorial-district-justified-in-controversial-persky-firing/

Editorial: District justified in controversial Persky firing