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Federal Way school district investigation reveals more in racial discrimination suit
In a year-long investigation, fraught with multiple harassment claims and appeals, attorneys determined the principal at TAF Academy did not retaliate against or harass the school’s sixth grade humanities teacher, the only African American woman at the school, when a staff member requested she read a racially offensive poem in May 2013.
But will her claims hold up in court?
Dissatisfied with the outcome of the district's investigation, Tenesha Fremstad filed a civil lawsuit in May against the Federal Way school district, even though Pam Wise, who told Fremstad to read the poem entitled “Niggerlips,” is no longer employed.
The Mirror obtained more than 400 pages of the district’s investigation through a public records request.
TAF Foundation, who employed Wise, put her on administrative leave last spring, and her contract was never renewed - ceasing her employment in June.
But Fremstad filed multiple claims throughout 2013 that TAF principal Paul Tytler retaliated against her by calling her names, failing to be her mentor during her leadership internship with University of Washington, giving her a “not favorable” evaluation and withholding an open Dean of Students position at TAF, while hiring someone else after he had written her letters of recommendation for dean positions at other schools.
Fremstad alleges Wise and Tytler worked together for some time and they were friends.
Tytler told investigators there’s a reason for the supposed “retaliatory” actions.
He said Fremstad’s positive evaluations in the past were for teaching. Her leadership evaluation “was consistent with her limited experience with system’s level leadership,” he wrote in an October 2013 letter to the school board.
“Her leadership tasks had primarily been in the role of a teacher leader within the context of her classroom and her grade level team,” he wrote. “The evaluation reflected her experience at this initial point in time of her internship. The feedback was developmental in nature and focused on growth over time.”
Tytler states he also met with Wise to figure out why she gave her that poem and told her of his concerns, asking her to mediate with Fremstad.
“At no time have I acted in a retaliatory or discriminatory manner toward Ms. Fremstad,” he wrote. “My effort has always been to address the concerns in an open and honest manner, including those that arose in this circumstance.”
Fremstad said Tytler’s choice to move her planning period up a period was retaliation, but Tytler explained it was simply because a physics teacher requested the opportunity to teach a portion of math and a math teacher wanted to teach some science.
The switch would have also changed who Fremstad was paired with for their study period - a new teacher.
“Pairing Ms. Fremstad with a new teacher was viewed as a strength providing, mentoring situation for Ms. Fremstad,” Tytler wrote. “In addition, since our new hire is bilingual, it was determined that having her teach sixth grade was advantageous, given the increased enrollment of Latino students at that grade level.”
The switch never occurred, as Fremstad’s planning partner declined to teach algebra. Her planning partner also filed a harassment claim against Wise, despite the fact she never attended the data day meeting when the incident occurred.
Furthermore, the Dean of Students selection was because there was someone at TAF more qualified, Tytler states. While Fremstad was frustrated the position was not posted to the district’s job listings web page, Tytler was within school policy of an internal hire without an interview process.
The person chosen had prior administrative experience and “overall effective leadership contributions within the Federal Way Public Schools and TAF Academy,” he said.
In an August meeting, Tytler told Fremstad he could no longer support her leadership internship or be her mentor.
“I explained my concern on whether I could be an effective mentor for her given her concerns pertaining to my leadership and the current status of our relationship,” Tytler wrote, explaining that he believes the relationship between a mentor and mentee is essential and that he had known about her accusations of his alleged retaliation. “During the course of our August discussion, I asked her three separate times during the conversation why she would want me as a mentor and what we could do to get on the same page. She declined to answer each time.”
Tytler said he would continue to support her if they could work out their differences but later Fremstad received an accidental text message from Tytler that read, “Just finished meeting with Tenesha - very challenging, oh well.”
Fremstad’s other complaints center around Tytler allegedly calling her a “shit, diva and brat,” which neither the investigators nor Tytler address in their responses and determinations in the investigations.
And yet, Lynette Baisch with Porter Foster Rorick LLP, who wrote the last determination in the investigation on April 17, still determined Fremstad’s concerns about the data day incident have been “thoroughly investigated” and the district has “found there are legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for each of the actions she complains of.”
Baisch said the district has accommodated Fremstad by replacing her mentor for her administrative credential internship program, they offered her a Dean of Students position at Totem Middle School, adjacent to TAF, but she refused.
Fremstad also allegedly declined to participate in the processes designed to address her complaints, such as mediation, and she refused to meet with an outside investigator about her most recent complaint filed last November about an employee supposedly mocking her. Fremstad would not transfer to a new school when the opportunity presented itself.
Fremstad could not be reached for comment and district officials have declined to comment because of ongoing litigation.
The Mirror will update this story and the ongoing litigation as more information becomes available.