Monroe Schools Superintendent Blasko, furloughed by school board, to be investigated

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Monroe Schools Superintendent Blasko, furloughed by school board, to be investigated


Jim Scolman’s photo

At least fifty Monroe school teachers and supporters gathered outside the Monroe School District offices on a damp, cold Monday evening, Dec. 13, to protest the school district’s leadership. “We’re zooming in on the school board meeting tonight, they’ve all gone home,” said one sign-bearer, meaning the school board meeting was being held remotely and the sign-carrying teachers weren’t not invited.

MONROE— Emerging stories of retaliation and fear under School District Superintendent Justin Blasko that surfaced last week led the school board to place Blasko on administrative leave and hire a third-party investigator to investigate the allegations. School board president Jennifer Bumpus announced Dec. 18 that those steps were being taken. The decision came from a closed session on Dec. 17 to review his performance, Bumpus’ message to the community said.
Days before, the council had received a catalog of first-person accounts of incidents that included documented complaints of Blasko yelling at staff and second-hand reports of him making derogatory slurs. The catalog was compiled by the Monroe Equity Council, an anti-racism advocacy group.
Their catalog paints Blasko as mercurial: blocking some people on district matters and, for others, allegedly deceitful and inconsistent with his words.
A growing number of parents and educators want Blasko out.
The Monroe teachers’ union called on Blasko to resign after voting against his leadership on Dec. 10.
More than 100 Monroe High students frustrated at feeling unsafe in the district staged a protest on December 13.
Parents and educators also staged a protest, and more than 1,300 people signed an internet petition calling for its removal.
Prior to the meeting, the district was already dealing with the perception that it was indifferent to racism and discrimination.
On top of that, there’s a sense of mistrust in the administration, said Melanie Ryan, chair of the Monroe Equity Council.
While Blasko is on administrative leave, the district has named Kim Whitworth, its academic director, as acting superintendent.
A board member publicly disagreed with Blasko’s dismissal.
“Although our district has suffered from racism … to assume that Dr. Blasko is the reason for all of this is naïve and myopic,” school board vice president Jeremiah Campbell said toward the end of the Dec. 13 meeting. adding: “These are cultural issues for which our whole community bears responsibility.
“Now is not the time for us to fire our district manager,” Campbell said, “but it is time for us to revisit the comments made tonight.” He described Blasko’s dismissal as a “gut reaction”.
District employees don’t report anything to human resources because “there is a culture of fear in this district,” Ryan said. “(District staff) are terrified – it’s their word – of speaking publicly about their experiences lest there be the retribution of losing their jobs.”
“(Blasko) just can’t reform a culture that he created,” Ryan said in his speech.
There are students who don’t feel safe or supported by the district, Sophia Welch, associate student body president at Monroe High, spoke to the council.
The teachers’ union rarely, if ever, takes a vote of no confidence. The vote was motivated by the number of students affected by racism.
“There’s this environment of fear,” said Robyn Hayashi, president of the Monroe Education Association. “I think it’s been smoldering for 10 to 12 years.”
“Students deserve to feel safe,” Hayashi said. “Under his leadership, you hear more and more about students feeling harassed and intimidated in this neighborhood.”
Regarding the investigation, Bumpus wrote in a December 16 community post that “we will share information about the results once they are complete. Please be patient as we work through this process. »
The district did not comment further on what was raised at the Dec. 13 meeting.
Meanwhile, at the Dec. 13 meeting, Blasko introduced Bill de la Cruz, one of the diversity and equity consultants the district will be working with.
“If I could somehow, as superintendent, step back, it would be to expedite the support provided to all of our staff in examining their own biases as well as barriers systemic…Maybe that would have prevented some of the recent situations from happening on our campuses,” Blasko said in an opening statement before introducing the consultant.
Board members Campbell and Sarah Johnson both openly endorsed that the district should hire a director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Monroe Equity Council wants the district to hire a full-time Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer.
The Monroe Education Association union has been seeking equity and diversity training for years, Hayashi said. They received a “flat response” from district officials and found no traction with school board members on the request, Hayashi said.
Teachers need professional training to properly respond to incidents and hate crimes, Hayashi told the council. “There is zero direction from above” and when there is, the direction is not uniform.
The council heard more than an hour and a half of public comments last week.
“They shouldn’t go to school in fear because of the color of their skin. It’s 2021,” Junelle Lewis told the board.
One speaker mentioned that the current damage in the district could threaten the district’s February tax renewal measure to fail.
The showdown incident in the Monroe High parking lot on Nov. 10 put racism in the school in the spotlight, but former students are candid that it’s not a new phenomenon.
Sarah Olson told the council she felt unsupported when she experienced childhood racism at Monroe schools: ‘There is a reason I choose not to raise my brown, multicultural son in this community: because I don’t want him to go through the same experiences as me.

Modification of the suggested public comment period
Jeremiah Campbell, Board Member, suggested considering whether the Board should change the time allotted for public comment.
Campbell said he picked up the idea from a recent formation of the Washington State School Principals’ Association.
New school board member Sarah Johnson said a wide public should be consulted before any changes are made.
Last week’s general meeting lasted nearly four hours. Council then followed up with a closed meeting for an additional hour and 45 minutes to wrap up the meeting just before midnight.

MHS Main Yields
Monroe High Principal Brett Wille’s administrative leave ended Dec. 6, the district spokeswoman said.
He took a temporary leave after an all-school assembly speech on Dec. 3 where he gave unfiltered examples of racial and derogatory language to demonstrate types of language unacceptable to the school.
School board student representative Nathan Burrell said the assembly split the school: it offended some Bearcats, while others acknowledged the language was meant to educate.

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