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Contentious public comment period for school board
“The public comment portion of the public meeting is not the appropriate procedure for lodging a complaint or charge against a public officer or employee. Such complaints, pursuant to policy or procedure 43-12, must be submitted in writing to the board president, where it will be considered for an executive session item or referred to the superintendent for investigation.”
Those were the words Federal Way Public Schools board president Tony Moore found himself speaking again during the school board’s Sept. 27 meeting after parent Dara Mandeville attempted to express concerns about a perceived issue with the professional climate at Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ).
Moore found himself referring to that policy after Mandeville attempted to read an anonymous letter from a member of the TJ teaching staff. Mandeville made it clear she was aware of the policy as she began her remarks for the three minutes commenters are allowed during school board meetings.
“Since that meeting, two weeks ago, I’ve received 35 letters from TJ staff, describing what I can only portray to you as upsetting and extremely disturbing,” Mandeville opened. “I’ve removed specific names, and replaced them with ‘The Administration,’ as I’m all too aware of the rules of this forum. These letters have been forwarded to the school board, but I would like to take a moment to recap a few statements in these letters that worry me the most.”
Mandeville began to read one of the letters she had received in recent weeks.
“Number one: These are from the teachers’ letters. ‘I labored over the decision to write this letter, as I fear retaliation based on what has happened to other teachers and staff members…,” she said, before Moore banged the gavel, bringing Mandeville to an abrupt halt.
“I just want to warn you that…it’s…not the time because of personnel issues, for you to bring staff’s specific concerns before this body at this time,” Moore said. “There is a process for that. And so if your letter is getting ready to go left, I just want to warn you before it does I will have to gavel you down and your time will end.”
Mandeville said she was aware of the policy, and said she was not naming any TJ administration member specifically. School board director Amye Bronson-Doherty chimed in, saying that even if the names are removed, there was a level of specificity being expressed by Mandeville that went against the board policy and state mandate.
“This is a state mandated thing, it’s not something we did by the school board,” Bronson-Doherty said. “It’s a human resources issue.”
Effectively silenced, Mandeville wondered what the next step is for TJ parents.
“Where do the parents go now? I guess that is my question,” she asked.
Moore replied by referring to the above policy and the process outlined in it, with Mandeville saying she’s been snubbed in her attempts to direct the board’s attention to the perceived issues at TJ.
“There is a process for it, you can submit, by way of a letter to me,” Moore attempted to explain.
“I have,” Mandeville interjected.
“I have not seen your letter. The only letters I’ve seen have been anonymous, and there’s no way I can act on an anonymous letter,” Moore said.
An extended silence ensued, with Mandeville simply saying “OK” before walking away from the podium.
Parents and administration have been in an ongoing dialogue regarding many issues at TJ, dating back to last year. Various parents expressed concern last year about the district’s academic acceleration policy, with those concerns carrying over into the current school year. Other issues at TJ that parents have been touching on in recent weeks are the implementation of Standards Based Education and grading at TJ, along with a severe scheduling problem that occurred during the first weeks of school.