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Mother of Federal Way student files racism complaints against teacher who restrained son

A mother of a Sacajawea Middle School filed two complaints against her son
A mother of a Sacajawea Middle School filed two complaints against her son's math teacher, who was reprimanded for improperly handling her son during an incident. The complaints allege the teacher was racist.
— image credit: Courtesy of Federal Way Public Schools

A Federal Way Public School investigation revealed a Sacajawea Middle School math teacher inappropriately touched a male student when she sent him to an in-school suspension room last year.

This past June, the Mirror reported on an alleged case of racism at the middle school after it came to light that a white teacher allegedly put her hands on a 12-year-old African American male student when he disrupted class in November 2013.

The boy’s mother, also a cafeteria worker at the school, told the Mirror that since that incident her son has been the target of retaliation from other teachers, also a form of racism, she said.

Gloria Butts filed a complaint with the school district on June 16 addressing the issues. The investigation into her claims, which were submitted to the superintendent, is ongoing.

According to public records that the Mirror obtained, Butts filed her first complaint on Nov. 20, 2013 against seventh grade math teacher Jennifer Hooper when she learned the teacher had allegedly “grabbed” her son and “shoved him across the room, into another room and then pushed him into a chair.”

The school district immediately launched an investigation and put Hooper on paid administrative leave that day.

Hooper filed a report on the student on Oct. 3, 2013 and on Nov. 19, 2013, the day the alleged assault took place, according to a Sacajawea Behavior Intervention Summary.

Back in October, she wrote the boy repeatedly disobeyed instructions to work with a specific partner and continued to gravitate to the back of the room where his friends were.

“To date he has completed three assignments since the beginning of school and his current grade in class reflects this,” Hooper wrote in the Oct. 3 report. “[His] response to our conversation was ‘I really don’t care.’”

And then on Nov. 19, Hooper’s class was taking a test.

She told the boy to stop talking and he complied for about 10 minutes, but then continued.

“[He] ignored the request to stop and continued to talk to himself aloud,” she wrote. “He was instructed to gather his belongings and go to the office.”

Hooper said he moved at a slow pace and when she asked him to move faster, he defied her and moved slower. Hooper then explained the instances after he sat down in the in-school suspension room but not how he got there, the current issue at hand.

In a meeting on Nov. 20, 2013 with Sacajawea Principal JoAnne Landis, Hooper and her union representative, Dawnde Reep, Hooper said once the boy started to walk toward the solution room, he stopped mid-track and then backed up, according to notes written by Scott Haines.

“This is the point where I put my hands out to stop him from going backwards any further,” she said. “I had my hands on his backpack straps. When [he] walked forward to the solution room, he shouted ‘I’m being abused in this class.’”

Hooper said she only touched his backpack to keep him from falling backwards.

“He was very aggressive and said that he was going to go to the office, but his body was not moving,” she said, noting she has a policy to avoid touching students whenever possible.

In a separate written statement, Hooper clarified that when the boy stopped walking toward the solution room, he pushed himself back into her, which caused her to trip and fall into him.

“At no time did I actually touch [him] or any part of his body as I ran into his backpack,” she wrote.

After the investigation into Hooper’s story, district officials met with four student witnesses, who also gave written statements. Three others gave written statements as well.

All seven students said they saw her grab him and push him in some form or another. While the majority said they saw her grab his backpack and pull or push him into the solution room, two thought they saw her grab his shoulders, while one said they saw her grab his coat.

“[The student] was talking to someone during a test,” a student witness wrote in a statement. “Mrs. Hooper told him to go to the office. He slowly but quietly grabbed his stuff. Mrs. Hooper lost patience so she told him to hurry up or she would call security to come get him. After that, she told him to go to [in-school suspension]. He still walked slowly. Mrs. Hooper grabbed [him] by the backpack and shoved him in there. [The student] screamed ‘abuse.’”

On Nov. 26, 2013, the principal hand delivered Hooper a letter of reprimand.

The letter explained that based on her own admission that she made contact with him as well as the students’ statements, she “used poor judgement in interacting with the student when [she] inappropriately physically detained and/or restrained the student and inappropriately physically touched and/or moved the student.”

“Such action was disrespectful to the student and could have escalated the student to the point of an unsafe situation,” the letter stated. “Your actions could have injured the student. Further, you unnecessarily caused a negative, offensive and potentially unsafe situation for the student and others present. You neglected your duty, were unprofessional and failed to perform your job responsibilities in that you did not use correct and safe techniques to gain compliance of the student.”

The principal goes on to write in the letter of reprimand that she is concerned about Hooper’s lack of judgement and lack of attention to the safety of students and that she used ineffective intervention. Landis also cited several district policy violations, including raising her voice at another individual.

After outlining what she is expected to do in regard to following the rules, the letter of reprimand stated any further violation of district policies would result in disciplinary action, “up to and including termination.” The letter was also to be placed in her personnel file.

“You should understand that the Federal Way school district takes these matters very seriously,” Landis wrote in the letter. “It is my sincere hope that you will perform your duties as an employee that reflects the educational mission of the Federal Way Public Schools.”

That same day, a letter was sent to the student’s mother explaining that the district found that Hooper did use ineffective interventions to gain compliance of her son but that her request to have Hooper fired without compensation would not be granted.

Hooper’s union president, Jason Brown of the Federal Way Education Association, also sent a letter that day, requesting Hooper’s letter of reprimand be reduced to a letter of direction instead.

Because Hooper was an employee of the district for eight years and it was her first offense, because she has no prior letters of reprimand or direction and because she was a police officer for 10 years and during that tenure she had no letters of direction, reprimand or citizen complaints, the association believes that punishing Hooper for a one-time error in judgement is damaging to any future employment opportunities outside of the Federal Way school district.

“The association believes that Mrs. Hooper takes what has occurred very seriously and the likelihood of her committing the same act is not likely and, if a similar incident should occur, the association would fully support the use of stricter punishment (i.e. a letter of reprimand),” Brown wrote in the letter.

Hooper returned to work on Nov. 27, 2013 and the boy was taken out of her class.

On Jan. 24, Butts filed a police report with the Federal Way Police Department. The report states she did not file a police report sooner because she thought the district would file the alleged assault charges.

Butts also said she could see fingernail marks on her son the day the incident occurred.

The responding officer contacted the school’s principal and learned they had not filed assault charges because, although they knew the boy was grabbed and pushed into a classroom, he allegedly did not sustain injuries nor did he complain of any pain.

“Upon reviewing [the report] and Landis’s investigation, I consulted with the city prosecutor,” the officer wrote in the police report. “Upon further discussion, the prosecutor’s office advised the assault charges will not be filed.”

However, on June 16, days before school was let out for the summer, Butts filed another complaint against a Sacajawea teacher, the assistant principal and the principal.

In the complaint she stated her son was removed from class on June 9 for not complying with the dress code and had been asked to change but when he went back to class the teacher sent him out again because he changed too fast.

That same day, she said her son was singled out when he was made to take his exam in the library while the other students stayed in class. On June 11, a teacher removed her son from class because he wasn’t following the dress code.

After meeting with the teacher and administration, Butts recounts in her complaint that she believed the staff only use the dress code to target children.

“On June 11, another student that was white had on a brown t-shirt under his blue polo shirt,” she wrote. “[A staff member] stated if he buttons it up, then he is not out of uniform. Now the policy changes when applied to white students.”

A week prior to that incident, Butts said a girl hit her son and he hit her back but only he was removed from the classroom.

And a month-and-a-half prior to that, staff allegedly took her son’s phone away even though “there were two white females, as [her son] stated, on their phone all the time” and nothing happened to them. “The district is very unkind to minority children in all aspects,” she wrote. “I can honestly say that there is a lot of racial discrimination that has played a role in the education of my son. He has missed a lot of very valuable instructional core class time because of the racist staff members at Sacajawea ...”


 

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