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Federal Way teacher files lawsuit against school district over racial discrimination | Update
An African American teacher at TAF Academy who refused to publicly read a poem entitled “Niggerlips” in 2013 has filed a civil lawsuit against Federal Way Public Schools.
Tenesha Fremstad claims the school district discriminated against her when the school’s then-instructional coach Pam Wise handed out poems to staff during a meeting on the school’s professional development day, known as Data Day, on May 3, 2013.
Fremstad refused to read the poem by Martín Espada because she did not want to use the word “nigger” as the only African American teacher in the room full of staff, according to the lawsuit that was filed on May 9 in King County Superior Court.
Fremstad was unavailable for comment.
Debra Stenberg, communications director for the school district, said, "Federal Way Public Schools prohibits any statements and actions that discriminate on the basis of race. All complaints of harassment and discrimination are investigated thoroughly, and prompt disciplinary action is taken on any allegations that can be substantiated."
In addition, Stenberg said the district has multiple levels of review and appeal for complaints that cannot be substantiated.
"FWPS has taken and continues to take significant steps to promote cultural competency and tolerance amongst our professional staff," she said. "FWPS has retained legal counsel who will respond to all allegations in the complaint through the legal process."
District spokesperson Debra Stenberg said due to the pending litigation, the district is unable to comment on this matter.
After several meetings with TAF principal Paul Tytler, other administrators and union president Jason Brown in May 2013, Fremstad filed a grievance with the district later that month over the perceived “racially offensive poem.”
Fremstad claims district staff and administrators also harassed her and retaliated against her following the incident.
The lawsuit notes one incident when Fremstad was walking to her classroom the morning of June 14, 2013. She said Tytler met her on the sidewalk and expressed how he expected her to be at the graduation, the suit continues. When Fremstad informed him that she had a family emergency, Tytler “started to act aggressively and disrespectfully and walked off in front of students as they were waiting to attend class.”
Wise was terminated in June 2013 for unknown reasons.
The school principal emailed Fremstad on July 16, 2013 and said he “would be happy to make calls” for Fremstad in reference to her applying for the Dean of Student jobs at another school, according to court documents. Fremstad later learned that there was a position open at TAF Academy for Dean of Students that she was not given an opportunity to apply for because Tytler didn’t notify her about the position. The job opening was also not posted on the district’s website, even though many other schools posted openings for the same position on the website.
Tytler appointed someone to fill that position at TAF and told Fremstad during a meeting in August 2013 that she was not ready to be a Dean of Students at TAF, the suit continues. Following that meeting, Fremstad received a text message from Tytler that stated, “Just finished meeting with Tenesha - very challenging, oh well.”
Fremstad believes this text message was meant to be sent to another recipient.
The lawsuit outlines several other incidents when Tytler allegedly retaliated against Fremstad, including calling her a “brat” in front of other staff members on more than one occasion, a “diva” on multiple occasions and referring to her as a “shit.”
She filed a discrimination complaint with the school district on Aug. 23, 2013 regarding Tytler’s alleged discriminatory and retaliatory actions.
The district offered Fremstad a Dean of Students job at another middle school without interviewing in September of 2013. At the same time, the district hired an outside attorney to investigate Fremstad’s allegations.
The district’s investigation found there was no substantiated evidence of retaliation.
However, Fremstad contends the attorney was only given certain dates to investigate further retaliation and this did not include a review of prior grievances or the poems given out on Data Day, according to the lawsuit.
Fremstad filed another grievance with the district about the alleged ongoing harassment, hostile work environment, racial discrimination and reprisal.
The lawsuit notes that in October of 2013, a teacher at TAF made inappropriate voice impersonations to students that Fremstad taught, mimicking her. She met with Tytler and a union representative, who told Fremstad the teacher was given a directive and that a meeting would be held in December of 2013. However, no further communication or meetings were held related to this alleged harassment.
Fremstad met with Vince Blauser, executive director of secondary schools, in November 2013. Blauser allegedly talked about creating a position that would be based off of grant money and not include Fremstad on a certificated contract, where she would work out of another school’s library.
“It was obvious that the district wanted (Fremstad) to accept this temporary position so that it could later state that the grant had expired and terminate her,” according to the lawsuit.
Fremstad said the district allegedly retaliated against her, removing her from the building leadership team, removing her as the department chair of humanities and taking away her stipend.
The district again hired an outside attorney to investigate Fremstad’s complaints, according to the lawsuit.
The Mirror has requested to see public records regarding the district’s investigations into this incident and will update this information when those records become available.