Tukwila School District to investigate discrimination complaints against its superintendent
By SARAH KEHOE
Tukwila Reporter Reporter
March 23, 2012 · 4:18 PM
The Tukwila School District is conducting its own investigation into complaints of racial discrimination that nine district employees have filed against Superintendent Ethelda Burke.
The district's counsel will conduct the investigation. Also, investigating is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with whom the complaints were filed.
"We believe that an investigation will give us the information we need to take responsible action," members of the Tukwila School District Board of Directors wrote in a statement posted to the district's web site Friday.
"We believe that it benefits all concerned to come to a complete and thorough understanding of the facts so that we can have an honest and fair process," board members wrote.
The Tukwila school board met in executive session Thursday night for a briefing from its counsel on the complaints; elected bodies are allowed to discuss legal and personnel matters in private. No decisions are made in such a closed session.
"We were there to better understand our legal obligations and to receive information on the discrimination complaints that have been presented," school board members wrote in the statement.
However, the statement continued: "As we have previously stated, the board takes these charges of discrimination very seriously."
The attorney for the nine employees filed the complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and called for Burke's immediate suspension.
Employees from vice principals, to teachers, to dispatchers have a story about the comments they've endured. Many black staff members claim they were called "slaves" by Burke, who is also black.
Burke came to the Tukwila district in 2007 from Tacoma.
The Tukwila School District is one of the most diverse in the state; 70 percent of the children are minorities.
Joan Mell, the employees' attorney, said a superintendent needs to show respect and professionalism and not base actions on race.
"She is harming the essence of the very diverse nature of the community," she said.
Mell alleges that Burke has kept black employees from moving into new positions and promotions.
“These people embraced bringing an African American, educated woman coming into their district, and she comes there and completely disarms them,” said, in an interview with KING 5 News. “It’s not an acceptable standard in today’s society to demoralize people according to their skin color, especially in a school environment.”
Mell hopes the district will hire a professional mediator to resolve this issue and promote black employees to positions she believes they deserve.“They need to be compensated for working in a terribly hostile work environment,” she told KING TV.
The school board's statement Friday indicated that some public members at the Thursday meeting asked for a decision of some kind. But in their statement board members wrote they "will not be pushed into a premature judgment, no matter how vocal any group might be."
The school board asked for the community's patience with the process and "support the board’s efforts to keep heated emotion and premature judgment out of the decision-making process." It called for a "respectful" conversation about the issues.
"This will acknowledge our shared commitment to making Tukwila and its schools a place where all people can live together and without fear of our differences," the statement read.
Earlier this week, Nina Melencio, executive director of Human Resources for the Tukwila School District, released the district's statement in response to the complaint:
"The district has received notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of charges against the District by two current district employees alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, gender and also alleging retaliation.
To date, the EEOC has asked the district to provide information responsive to only a portion of one of the complaints. The district is engaged in the process of complying with the EEOC’s request and expects to provide the EEOC a preliminary response by the end of March.
The district is committed to the provision of equal employment opportunity and treatment for all of its staff without discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender and/or other protected classifications. The district maintains a grievance procedure for employees alleging discrimination, and this procedure also protects employees against retaliation on account of their utilization of the complaint process.
Because these complaints involve personnel matters, in an effort to protect the privacy interests of the individuals involved, the district will not comment publicly on the substance of the complaints at this time."
Contact Tukwila Reporter Reporter Sarah Kehoe at firstname.lastname@example.org.