SMYRNA — After months of controversy, the Smyrna School District announced Saturday that superintendent Patrik Williams would be taking a leave of absence, effective immediately.
The Smyrna School District school board held an emergency meeting Saturday as a result of a sudden matter that could not be delayed to a later date. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Smyrna School District announced that Mr. Williams would be taking a leave of absence, and Assistant Superintendent Deborah Judy would assume duties as interim superintendent of the district.
Mr. Williams’ timetable to return is unkown at this time.
The sudden change comes just over a week before school board elections take place on May 10. It is unclear if Ms. Judy, who is also the Smyrna school board assistant secretary, will temporarily assume Mr. Williams duties as executive secretary during his leave.
Mr. Williams was selected to replace the retiring Deborah Wicks as Smyrna School District superintendent in 2017 and has served in the position since. Prior to this position, Mr. Williams served as the district’s assistant superintendent, principal of Smyrna Middle School, and assistant principal of Smyrna High School.
In a Monday press release, the Smyrna School District said they are unable to comment on Mr. Williams’ leave or any personnel matters because of constraints imposed by the district for employee privacy.
In February, the district received backlash for the inclusion of the Toni Morrison novel, “The Song of Solomon” in the Smyrna High School AP curriculum. The inclusion of the novel received criticism from parents due to the book’s sexual and racial themes, vulgar language and the message of the story, which parents deemed was too extreme for a high school audience.
Mr. Williams acknowledged the concerns in a February letter to parents, and though he maintained the book would remain in the AP curriculum, he said an alternative would be offered to students whose parents do not wish them to read the novel.
The controversy received attention on social media, specifically from the Delaware Young Republicans, who criticized Mr. Williams for his dismissal of the “disgusting content.”
Months later, the unveiling of a mural depicting political activist Angela Davis at Smyrna High School received criticism from both students and parents, leading to a peaceful, student-led protest on April 14.
Mr. Williams said the mural was meant to acknowledge the power of positive social change, but students criticized the painting of Ms. Davis for her ties to controversial political causes, including advocacy for the state of Palestine.
The mural was temporarily suspended by Mr. Williams, who said a meeting with staff and student representatives would be organized to discuss mutually agreed upon figures to add to the painting. The painting was restored back to full view by April 25 after the district’s Easter break.
Smyrna School Board members did not respond to requests for comment. The next Smyrna School District school board meeting will take place on May 11 at 7 p.m.