A series of disputes between the principal and a popular teacher at Burlingame High School has gained increasing exposure as the school district plans to transfer the teacher and students and parents rally in support of his cause.
At the center of the controversy is Kevin Nelson, an economics and political science teacher who has worked at Burlingame High for 27 years. Nelson has clashed with the school’s principal, Di Yim, over whether students should be allowed to drop his economics classes.
Nelson believes his problems might have been exacerbated when he reported Yim for allegedly joining students in a racy dance routine during the 2014 homecoming celebration.
Nelson said the disputes began after Yim, who joined the school in 2013, vetoed petitions by two students to drop his AP economics classes. Yim said she has a “no drop” policy.
This was problematic, Nelson said, because the students had been improperly enrolled in the classes without meeting their prerequisites.
The two economics classes were designed to be taken in order, over the course of a year, with the second semester class building upon lessons from the previous semester, Nelson said. But he claims Yim altered the schedule so students were forced to take both classes concurrently.
“The kids were being set up for failure,” Nelson said, claiming other students were also badly affected by the no-drop policy. He also said students were at risk for burnout and stress from having to do a year’s worth of AP economics studies in one semester.
In 2014, Nelson complained to the school district about a risqué dance performance involving the principal during the school’s homecoming festivities.
In a video obtained by the San Francisco Examiner, six male students can be seen dancing on the school’s football field. Their choreographed routine is set to a medley of tunes, which culminate in the song “Dick in a Box,” a spoof that originated on Saturday Night Live in 2006.
After the song begins to play, Yim rushes onto the field, provoking moans from audience members who seem sure the principal is about to put a stop to the routine. Yim instead dances along with the boys for a few seconds and brings the routine to a surprise ending that prompts laughter and applause from the audience.
Nelson later received a disciplinary letter from Yim. The letter reportedly accused Nelson of inappropriate conduct related to his student advocacy. Nelson claims the discipline was retaliation for reporting the dance routine, and the district ultimately removed the document from his personnel file.
In January, the San Mateo Union High School District asked Nelson to accept reassignment to another campus within the district.
Nelson acknowledges he can’t prove Yim requested his involuntary transfer, but believes it is the latest in a series of actions designed to punish him for his conflicts with the principal.
Current and former students joined some Burlingame High parents in a campaign to convince the district to reverse its decision. Almost 2,400 people have signed a Change.org petition to keep Nelson at the school. On Jan. 22, students rallied on campus, wearing all black in support of Nelson.
That same day, Yim announced she would resign from her position but serve out the remainder of the school year. At the time, she denied her decision was connected to her disputes with Nelson.
Earlier this month, Nelson learned he would be transferred to Aragon High School in San Mateo. The matter will likely be discussed during the school board’s March 24 meeting, and parents and students are expected to attend the meeting to denounce Nelson’s transfer.
District Superintendent Kevin Skelly and Yim both declined to comment on personnel matters.
But Skelly noted the level of community engagement around the issue showed how much passion parents and students feel for their school.
“I care deeply about Burlingame High School and want the kids to get the best education they can, as does practically everybody I’ve talked to about this controversy,” Skelly said.Brendan BartholomewBurlingame High SchoolDi YimDick in a BoxeducationKevin NelsonPeninsula