News

Mom suspended after e-mailing school district from work

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

A Federal Way motherŽ’s e-mail to the Federal Way School Board took a turn for the worse ŽÑŽÊand resulted in her suspension from work ŽÑ after a confrontation with board president Earl VanDorien.

Timolin Abrom returned to work as a procurement specialist at Lakehaven Utility District last Monday ŽÑŽÊshe took a vacation after her suspension ŽÑŽÊand things are getting back to normal.

But Abrom feels her original question regarding a disparity in discipline between black male students and other students, as perceived by parents in the district, remains unanswered.

Ž“I can tell you at this time that the District has TONS of plans for addressing the parentŽ’s concerns,Ž” VanDorien wrote in an e-mail to the Mirror.

In the e--mail to the Mirror, VanDorien referred to the Equity and Achievement Report and the Ž“Close the GapŽ” report on explaining and correcting the Ž“gapŽ” in test scores from minorities, low-income and other identifiable demographics that need assistance.

VanDorien also mentioned the new position of Parent/Family Liaison, which will be filled in December or January.

Abrom originally contacted the school district following an incident last year in which her son, now a 17-year-old at Federal Way High, was suspended for seven days after a fight of which he said he wasnŽ’t a part.

Because the circumstances were unclear, Abrom said she asked the vice principal for a hearing. He said no and her son served a seven-day suspension.

Ž“I know I have a right to a hearing,Ž” she said. Ž“He told me no.Ž”

Angry she wasnŽ’t able to get a hearing and suspicious of a disparity, Abrom went to the districtŽ’s Web site to start researching discipline policies.

She said she found information on the Equity and Achievement Task Force and some information on the Bridging the Gap program, but nothing seemed to address discipline.

Ž“On the site was a button to ask the school board a question,Ž” she said. She clicked it and sent her question to the board. Ž“I really regret having done that,Ž” she said.

VanDorien responded, but Abrom said he didnŽ’t answer her question. She thanked him, but added, Ž“Could you please address the issue in my letter on the disparity on how Black/African American children are being disciplined (particularly with suspensions and detention) in the FWSD compared to their white counterparts by both faculty and school security,Ž” according to forwarded copies of the e-mail.

VanDorienŽ’s response about discipline in the school district shocked Abrom.

Ž“But again IŽ’ll be blunt, and not politically correct ŽÑŽÊlook at our prisons. Same story,Ž” VanDorien wrote to Abrom. Ž“The prison population by African Americans is about 61 percent. The African American population in the U.S. in general is 30 percent. In Washington state, itŽ’s 3 percent. In Federal Way, about 13 percent.Ž”

In contrast, VanDorien referenced the Asian population, which he numbered about 17 percent in Federal Way.

Ž“But note the discipline problems with Asians in our schools ŽÑŽÊnot even close to the 17 percent of their population,Ž” VanDorien wrote. Ž“IŽ’m curious as to why that is.Ž”

VanDorien wrote in an e-mail to Abrom that Federal Way could be a leader in finding solutions to the disparities, but said communities should take responsibility for their problems, too.

Ž“But one of the things our own Task Force has discovered is that this is also a Ž“culturalŽ’ problem,Ž” he said in the e-mail. Ž“Without a change that starts from within the cultural communities that have the problems, then nothing done from the outside can occur.Ž”

Abrom said she was stunned.

Ž“I could not believe I was actually reading this from someone who is supposed to be representing my son,Ž” she said. Ž“I was amazed that he sent me this e-mail when I just asked him a question.Ž”

In her response to VanDorien, she said that, as a member of the ACLU, she was aware of the black population in prison, but added in her e-mail, Ž“we are discussing our schools and we should not equate the prison system with our educational system because both have unique problems.Ž”

Abrom said she had been working for some time with other parents on building a Web site with information on parentsŽ’ rights and getting hearings, among other things. In her e-mail, she said she would be posting his unedited response to the Web site.

VanDorien forwarded the e-mail conversation to the schoolsŽ’ superintendent and the districtŽ’s attorneys to see whether she could legally publish it.

He also sent it to her bosses at Lakehaven and accused her of doing political work with taxpayer money.

Ž“As a Lakehaven customer, I strongly resent my utility bill money being used by employees to conduct ACLU political work from LakehavenŽ’s computer system. During work hours,Ž” he wrote.

Abrom was suspended without pay for 10 days for misusing the computers.

Bob McKenzie, a self-described parent advocate, spoke to LakehavenŽ’s commissioners last week on AbromŽ’s behalf. He said he didnŽ’t know Abrom prior to the incident, but he got involved after VanDorien referenced him in a response to Abrom.

Ž“My name was mentioned in a not-so-flattering way,Ž” McKenzie said. Ž“So I started looking into it. I thought if nothing else, IŽ’d talk to the board because what was done was wrong.Ž”

He said what was done to Abrom Ž“as a mother and a parent trying to advocate for her son was a shame. It certainly could have been done a lot differently.Ž”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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