Milpitas Unified Trustee Michael Tsai has come under fire for comments he made at the board’s January 26 meeting — and his subsequent call for fellow trustee Kelly Yip-Chuan to apologize for her alleged involvement in a conflict of interest that would have benefited the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce.
Tsai accused Yip-Chuan of encouraging students from Milpitas High School and Calaveras Hills High School to spend their volunteer hours helping for-profit businesses — a violation of federal labor laws. The businesses in question are allegedly members of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, of which Yip-Chuan is a trustee.
“Doing telemarking for for-profit businesses. That’s not what community service is about,” Tsai said during the meeting.
Tsai alleged Yip-Chuan’s idea presented a conflict of interest, saying he was “disturbed” by her actions, which sent a “terrible, cynical message” to MHS’s students. In an email to supporters, he repeatedly called for Yip-Chuan to apologize.
The Chamber’s president, Warren Wettenstein, said in a statement that he has not issued any endorsements or given support to any MUSD candidates.
Students have regularly volunteered with the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce for at least a decade, helping with various office tasks and fundraisers, according to Wettenstein. The Chamber, like all other organizations of its kind, is a registered nonprofit. Chambers of Commerce’s members are generally for-profit business owners who advocate for their cities’ or towns’ business communities.
“The Chamber helps these students volunteer and gain valuable experience, which helps them with future employment,” said Yip-Chuan in an interview. “Even my own daughter has volunteered with the Chamber during her middle school years to get community hours.”
Tsai said the fallout over his comments against Yip-Chuan has been unfair and misinformed:
“A small number of dishonest individuals then started attacking me and spreading misinformation in the community in a desperate attempt to justify her [Yip-Chuan’s] actions and retaliate against me for calling it out to protect our kids,” Tsai said in the email.
Yip-Chuan denied the claims, saying she herself is a victim of retaliation from Tsai.
“It’s disgraceful and disappointing,” she said.
Both Milpitas and Calaveras Hills High Schools require all students to complete at least 20 hours of volunteer work by April of their senior year in order to graduate.
“Our children’s community service hours should not be used as unpaid labor for the benefit of for-profit business interests. At the last board meeting, I spoke up for our students against an attempt to use them in this manner,” said Tsai in a statement.
The pandemic has complicated many high school seniors’ volunteering opportunities due to social distancing guidelines. Board and school officials at the meeting discussed the possibility of issuing a COVID-related waiver for seniors who still need volunteer hours.
Only 36% of Milpitas High School seniors and 12% of seniors at Calaveras Hills High School have reported completing their volunteer hours, according to a district presentation.
The board voted to allow Superintendent Cheryl Jordan to work with officials at both Milpitas and Calaveras Hills High Schools to determine if students should be granted a COVID-related waiver for their unfulfilled volunteer hours.