By Cooper Veit
Former judge Aaron Persky ’84 M.A. ’85 was fired from a new job as a JV girls’ tennis coach at Lynbrook High School in San Jose on Wednesday — two days after the news of his hiring became public and stirred sharp backlash from parents, students and national media. Persky was recalled from the bench last year after his lenient sentencing of convicted rapist and former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner kicked off a national conversation about privilege and rape.
Persky, a highly rated and trained tennis amateur, was hired by Lynbrook over the summer to fill a vacancy in their tennis coaching staff. But once the news was made public, resistance towards this decision, crystallized in the form of a viral Change.org petition, called for his removal. The petition, authored by Lynbrook alumna Shivani Kavuluru and signed by students, alumni, parents and staff, argued that Persky’s hiring was “troubling for many reasons.”
The petition claimed Persky could not be trusted in a coach’s role as a mandated reporter for harassment and abuse, that his unprecedented recall by area voters suggested extreme doubt in his moral character and qualifications, and that by endorsing him, Lynbrook would be “sending a dangerous message that it does not treat Chanel Miller or any survivor with the respect they deserve.”
“I cannot even fathom how the administration arrived at a decision that shoves aside all morals in the face of children and families,” wrote Sunny Wu ’19, a Stanford alumna who also graduated from Lynbrook.
Lynbrook initially defended its decision to hire the disgraced former judge in a press release on Wednesday.
“[Persky] applied for the open coaching position over the summer and successfully completed all of the District’s hiring requirements before starting as a coach, including a fingerprint background check,” the school’s administrators wrote. “He was a highly qualified applicant, having attended several tennis coaching clinics for youth and holds a high rating from the United States Tennis Association.”
In its press release the school said it had hosted a meeting on Monday for the parents of girls on the JV and Varsity tennis teams to discuss the hiring. The press release also said that during the hiring process over the summer the Lynbrook athletic staff were unaware Persky “was previously in the news in connection with this prior job as a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge” and only found out last week.
The school system’s claims of ignorance did little to stem the tide of outrage at and beyond Lynbrook. As of Wednesday, over 3,000 people had signed the petition to have Persky removed. On the petition, Lynbrook alumna Elizabeth Yang blasted the Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD).
“As working at a school is one of the highest callings within our society, we urge the FUHSD to reconsider the hiring of Mr. Persky as a JV girl’s tennis coach at Lynbrook High School,” Yang wrote. “Furthermore, we insist that the FUHSD perform more thorough background checks going forward. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for the FUHSD finding out Mr. Persky’s history as a judge only as of last week (during the week of Sep 2, 2019).”
After news broke on Wednesday of Persky’s employment as a high school tennis coach, it reignited the distaste for Persky that drove Santa Clara county voters to remove a judge from office for the first time in 80 years. The news also came days after Chanel Miller’s decision to publicly release her name as the ‘Emily Doe’ in the Brock Turner case ahead of the release of her memoir “Know My Name,” a decision that renewed attention to her story.
“Effective September 11, 2019, Mr. Persky’s employment with the District as the Junior Varsity Girls Tennis coach has ended,” Lynbrook wrote late Wednesday. The school announced it will immediately begin its search for a new coach to ensure that JV athletes could have a productive tennis season. Both Lynbrook High School and Fremont Union School District staff will provide support to tennis team members and their families while the program transitions into a new JV coach.
“Please know that we are deeply committed to maintaining an effective, safe, and positive environment for all students,” the school added.
Lynbrook senior Megan Xu said that reactions at the high school were mixed.
“Some students said that his past should not be connected with his coaching ability now, but others argued that his coaching ability is not important, and that his decision and views creates a dangerous environment that should not be in our school,” she said. “Hiring Aaron Persky also sends the false message that our school and community supports his decision and people like him.”
In a statement to the Mercury News, Persky said that his firing “was motivated by a desire to protect the players from the potentially intrusive media attention related to my hiring.”
“Although I am disappointed with the district’s decision,” he wrote, “it was a privilege to coach the team, if only for a short time. I wish all of the players the best in their future academic and athletic endeavors.”
Contact Cooper Veit at cveit ‘at’ stanford.edu.