Civil Rights Complaint: Disparate Treatment for Parents of Color




12 May 2014

Ms. Sandra Sanchez, Civil Rights Attorney
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights
Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Building
1244 Speer Boulevard, Suite 310
Denver, CO 80204-3582


Re: Disparity in Principal Selection Process  

Dear Ms. Sanchez,

Please consider the civil rights violations outlined in this letter as supplemental information to my initial complaint of February 20, 2013 titled: Disparities in Teacher Staffing and assigned case

# 08-13-1122, by your office. If not, then please forward this letter to your intake office for review as a separate complaint. In this correspondence, I want to bring to your attention, the naming of a new principal for Parkview Elementary, a school that is in District 2, which I represent. The hiring of this principal was done in violation of district policy and excluded ethnic minority parents from the interview process, as is their right by Salt Lake City School District policy and Title I Parental Involvement guidelines.

On May 6, 2014, the Salt Lake City School Board was presented the Human Resources Board Report[1] for their approval. The report displayed the first round of new principals for the school district, for the 2014-2015 school year. In the state of Utah, all employment contracts of school personnel must be approved by the Board of Education.[2]

Several weeks prior to the meeting, I questioned the Superintendent’s actions in submitting the names of the new principals for several westside schools, because I believe they were hired contrary to school district policy. The superintendent ignored my email and never replied. During the school board meeting I asked for an explanation. We were told that district policy was not followed because the schools in question are designated as University of Virginia Partnership turnaround schools. After hearing that explanation, I again voiced my objection to the violations of the hiring process which excluded westside parents and teachers.

I distributed a letter with supporting documentation to members of the board, outlining my reason for opposing the hiring of a principal void of parent and teacher participation.[3]

Part of that supporting documentation included district policy. I stated that the superintendent’s actions were a violations of the school district policy on parent and community involvement[4], which clearly outline the school board’s commitment to Shared Governance which states in part:

“The board expects each Salt Lake City School District school to build a school culture that welcomes family and community involvement. Educational programs should be designed to link family members to student achievement goals, engage them in activities supporting those goals, and encourage frequent, appropriate, and varied two-way communication between school and home, so that all families understand what is happening in the classroom and what they need to do to support student learning…school-level decision -making operates within board of education policy, ethics, budget, and law.”

I should here point out that the elementary schools in the area (District 2) that I represent, average about 90% students of color. I am the only person of color serving on the seven member school board. Individual school board districts (like city council districts) are divided equally among the seven member board, based on the adult population. When we look at the student population in each of our districts, I represent roughly 25% of the student population of the entire school district. Conversely, five of the seven board members represent roughly 10% of the student population. Yet my voice on the school board is constantly attacked, marginalized, belittled, silenced and ignored.

As I go into my second year of service on the school board, I have observed that the majority Caucasian school board is indifferent to the issues facing communities of color. The majority of the school board sustains institutional practices that systematically favor certain racial, economic and language groups, while negatively impacting others.

Consequently, I was the sole board member to vote against the hiring of this principal. I attribute that 6 to 1 vote as the result of White dominance[5] on the board. In violating their own principal hiring procedures for this particular school, the superintendent and school board have created an environment where the differential or biased treatment of ethnic and racial minority parents within the school district is a common and acceptable practice. As you will observe in the video of the school board deliberations on this subject, the majority of the board is uninterested in the issue. You will also note one board member’s only contribution to the discussion is to minimize the concern by initially declaring that there is no violation of the hiring process. When that didn’t end the deliberations, she then declares in some frustration, “we are off topic”. Although our school district is a majority, ethnic minority student population, the reverse is the true for the school board. Recognizing these are issues we tend to not want to openly discuss, I for one can longer remain silent on the institutional racism that is being peddled by this superintendent and the school board. As one sociologist observed:

“Even though we sometimes may be tempted to close the discussion about White dominance, we have a responsibility to our students to assure that we and our colleagues remain open to ever deeper levels of awareness. It is the unexplained nature of White dominance that is often our problem.”[6]

As you are aware, ethnic or racial differences in achievement that are the consequence of discrimination by educators, represent the more obvious and egregious forms of ethnic and racial disparities.

Ethnic and racial discrimination takes many different forms and expressions. In this case, it manifest itself in the disparate treatment of the parents, students and teachers that participate in the life of a Title I School.

I have observed that the superintendent is more inclined to follow school board policy when dealing with the more influential Caucasian parents on the east side of the school district. School Board policies are quickly discarded when dealing with the students, parents and teachers of our more ethically diverse schools in the westside of the district.

In the state of Utah, local school board policy has the force of law.[7] To that end, the Salt Lake City School Board entered into a Written Understanding with the Salt Lake Association of School Administrators (SLASA).

The most current Written Understanding[8] between the board and that association, states that principal vacancies will be filled one of two ways. The first way is through lateral transfers (rotations of current principals) or through job opening announcement. When doing lateral transfers, the Written Understanding states that a “meeting with the appropriate stakeholders (School, staff and patrons) to determine what the school, community, and administration desire in a principal…”

Later in this complaint, I will point out that while utilizing this method to fill vacancies, the district chose to again ignore the contribution of the parents and the teachers.

When following the second path of a job opening announcement the Written Understanding states that a “school selection team…shall be formed” the Written Understanding goes on to state that “the selection team shall screen and interview candidates from the applicant pool and recommend two or more candidates.” This “school selection team” includes teachers and parents from the school.

In the case of Parkview Elementary, which is a Title I school, of the two options, neither was followed. The superintendent instead hired a charter school principal from a neighboring county to fill the principal vacancy. Teachers and parents were excluded from the selection process. As already stated, attempts on my part, to seek clarification from the superintendent, about this blatant policy violation, prior to the May 2014, school board meeting, met with negative results.

Over the past two years we have had several community organizations that have done a tremendous job in helping our parents understand the importance of their participation in the life of the school. The parents in my community now painfully recognize that they should have been afforded the opportunity to participate in the principal selection process of their child’s school. The recent actions of the district and school board have only served to underscore the perception that the district does not care about them or their children’s future.

This perception becomes more pervasive and corrosive when they were informed that parents from eastside schools like Wasatch and Dilworth Elementary, will be allowed to participate in the principal selection process of their child’s school. Sadly, these types of divisions and disparate treatment characterize the norm in this school district. I am convinced that these types of discriminatory practices exact high costs in academic, social, and motivational capital. I have also noted that these types of inequities elevate stress in families of color, because parents feel like they do not have the means or the influence to contribute in a meaningful way to the academic climate of their child’s school.

In the May 6, 2014, school board meeting, the superintendent and associate superintendent stated that they did not follow the school district principal selection policy because Parkview Elementary is in a partnership with University of Virginia (UVA) turnaround program. I asked the question:

“Who approved UVA Turnaround program coming into the school district or into our local schools?”

They conceded that there was no approval sought from the school board or the faculty of each school. This course of action on their part, is contrary to Utah state law that gives local school board the authority to approve programs that come into the district.[9]

Additionally, it is a violation of the Written Agreement that the school board and the Salt Lake Teacher’s Association (SLTA) have agreed to. The written Agreement states, under its Shared Governance section:

Programs and Approval.

The council [School Improvement Council] shall establish and implement procedures and programs for the individual school consistent with the policies of the board and approved by the faculty through consensus or ratification when consensus cannot be reached and approval of the superintendent.

In December of 2012 (a month after I was elected), I sent an email to the superintendent asking for information about the University of Virginia turnaround program. In that email response, the superintendent stated that he had not informed the school board of the district’s participation in the program.[10]

I am now going into my second year on the school board and we have as of yet, to receive a briefing or asked to approve this program in our district. You will note one board member (in the accompany video), who has served two years longer than I, seek clarification and understanding of the UVA turnaround program and its interaction with our schools.

During the course of my service on the school board I have seen financial payments[11] to the University of Virginia and I have heard principals mention the University of Virginia in their reports to the school board[12]. Most of my understanding of the UVA Turnaround program does was gleaned from the internet.

Last month, I exchanged another email[13] with the superintendent because teachers from Parkview were calling me, asking for more information on their schools new designation as a “turnaround school”. In that email exchange, the superintendent revealed that the following schools were part of the UVA school turnaround program:

  1. Glendale Middle (2012)
  2. Edison Elementary (2012)*
  3. Meadowlark Elementary (2012)*
  4. Northwest Middle (2013)
  5. Lincoln Elementary (2013)
  6. Riley Elementary (2013)*
  7. Bryant Middle (2014)
  8. Backman Elementary (2014)
  9. Parkview Elementary (2014)*

As far as I have been able to determine, the UVA Turnaround program was forced upon these Elementary school communities for the 2014-2015 school year. Neither the School Improvement Council, faculty, School Community Council nor the parents of these schools were allowed to exercise their rights to consider and vote on the acceptance of this program as prescribed in the Written Agreement, District’s Shared Governance and Title I Parental Involvement Guidelines.

I submitted a letter with supporting documentation to the school board, outlining my objections mentioned above. After the proceedings of the meeting were posted on the school district’s web page. I received calls from several educators in the district who voiced their support for the points I made about the parents and faculty being consistently excluded from the principal selection process at Title I schools in the district.

Several educators also disputed the superintendent’s assertions (voiced at the board meeting) that that the UVA turnaround program is not a “program”, therefore not subject to faculty approval as per the Written Agreement. The official name is:

The University of Virginia Darden/Curry
Partnership for Leaders in Education Program (PLE)

It is indisputable that this is indeed a program. I am including the front page of the brochure[14] put out by the University of Virginia referencing itself as a “program.” I don’t feel a need to expend anymore time on the superintendent’s flimsy denial.

On May 8, 2014, I called the director of the UVA turnaround program, Mr. William Robinson. I explained to him the poor manner in which this program has been rolled out in this district. I also explained that it violated the district’s tenants of shared governance. I found Mr. Robinson to be unsympathetic to the issues that I was raising.

He went on to inform me that parents and teachers have no place in this program to participate in the selection of their new principal. He said the program utilizes a comprehensive hiring approach known as the Behavior Event Interview or BEI, which is used in many Fortune 500 companies. At one point in the conversation he stated, referring to the parents, those people would not know how to pick the best principal”. He went on to assure me that the district and his organization have picked the best principals for “those schools” etc…He also stated that his program has received approval from the Utah State Office of Education and no other approval was needed. I did locate a letter on the USOE web page that does establish the partnership between UVA and USOE.[15] The letter states that UVA Turnaround program will initially be paid $50,000.00 per school, either by USOE or the local school district.

The information that I have read[16] on this program is very explicit in stating that school turnaround hinges on the principal. One report was even titled “Turnaround Principals Are the New Sheriffs in Town”. While I don’t discount that conclusion, I don’t believe turnaround can happen with that change alone. All stakeholders i.e. school board, parents, families, teachers, community etc…need to be included in the effort.

By way of illustration, a recent report by the Texas Center for District and School Support outlines a turnaround model that utilizes components of the principal as the turnaround leader. This model equally emphasizes the role of the student, parent, family, teacher and community.[17]

Following my conversation with Mr. William Robinson of the UVA Turnaround program, I filed a Title I complaint[18] with the Salt Lake City School District and the Utah State Office of Education.


(d) PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT- Each State plan shall describe how the State educational agency will support the collection and dissemination to local educational agencies and schools of effective parental involvement practices. Such practices shall—

(1) be based on the most current research that meets the highest professional and technical standards, on effective parental involvement that fosters achievement to high standards for all children; and

(2) be geared toward lowering barriers to greater participation by parents in school planning, review, and improvement experienced.

Section 1118 of the ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION states that every Title 1 school must have a written parent involvement policy, developed with and approved by parents.

There are other Title I schools in my district that will be receiving a new principal through the lateral transfer method (rotation).[19] Under this method, current policy states that parents and teachers would be consulted as to what characteristics they would like to see in a new principal. They would also be consulted as to the needs of the school. The idea is that the superintendent would take these parent and teacher recommendations into consideration when transferring a new principal into the school.

I have been advised by the parent leaders of the schools in my district that no one ever contacted them or sought their input as to what they would like to see in a new principal. I am not asking for a new policy. I am asking that the school district bureaucracy and the school board exercise some measure of integrity towards the students, parents and teachers in Title I schools. We must ensure that current school district policy applies equally to both White and Brown parents in the Salt Lake City School District.

The fact that the superintendent and the school board will deny parents and teachers in westside Title I schools, their established rights to participate in the selection process of their school principal, is a clear example of an educational disparity that involves differences in treatment based on a school’s student ethnic and racial population. I submit, that the most effective manner to eliminate educational disparities is to eradicate these types of social class decisions on the district level.

When the superintendent and the majority of the school board insults parents of color in this manner, they are exercising their “White Privilege”.[20] Furthermore, we are aware “that social hierarchies are maintained through a combination of individual and institutional discrimination”. [21] I believe that the superintendent and the majority of the school board expect that as people of color, we should “accept the legitimacy of the hierarchal structure, [they have created], thus internalizing [our] oppression by rationalizing ourselves to our place in the scheme of things” [22]

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defined his vision for how parents can and should be engaged in their children’s education in his keynote address at the MOM Congress on Education and Learning in May 2010:

My vision for family engagement is ambitious. … I want to have too many parents demanding excellence in their schools. I want all parents to be real partners in education with their children’s teachers, from cradle to career. In this partnership, students and parents should feel connected–and teachers should feel supported. … we need parents to speak out and drive change in chronically-underperforming schools where children receive an inferior education. With parental support, those struggling schools need to be turned around now—not tomorrow, because children get only one chance at an education.

In his January 2011 State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama discussed the shared responsibility of the home, school, and community in enhancing our country’s education system, stating:

“…the question is whether all of us—as citizens and as parents—are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed. That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.”

In referencing these two speeches, I echo the words of Karen Mapp:

“The president’s and secretary’s remarks define a robust and comprehensive view of the role of families in their children’s schooling. Instead of the involvement of parents being seen as a peripheral, compliance-driven aspect of whole school improvement, their vision calls for parents to be full partners with school staff and other members of the community in the work of creating and sustaining excellent schools. A symbol of this expanded view of the family’s role is represented by the research-informed shift in terminology from “parental involvement,” representing supportive activities that occur primarily in the home between parent and child, to “family engagement,” broadening the role of families from at-home activities to full partnerships with school staff and other parents and community members in the overall improvement of schools.”[23]

As a member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education, I am speaking out on behalf of the parents in my neighborhood, we must insist that the school board no longer ignore our voice, we demand to be heard and our contributions to improving our schools be accepted!  We will no longer accept the conditions that allow for “chronically-underperforming schools where children receive an inferior education” in our community.

I have exhausted all local administrative means to correct this injustice. On behalf of the parents, students and residents that elected me, I submit these allegations for your review and corrective action.



J. Michael Clára
Board Member, District 2




[1] Human Resources Board Report, May 6, 2014

[2] Utah Code 53A-3-410

[3] Letter to School Board President: Flawed Principal Selection Process, May 6, 2014

[4] School Board Policy C-1, Parent and Community Involvement

[5] We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know by Gary Howard

[6] Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society by M. Fine

[7] Utah Code 54A-3-402

[8] Written Understanding: Salt Lake City Board of Education & The Salt Lake Association of School Administrators, Section X

[9] Utah Code 53A-3-402

[10] Email from Superintendent: UVA Program December 19, 2012

[11] Purchase Report, September 11, 2013

[12] Lincoln Elementary Highlight Report, February 4, 2014

[13] Email from Superintendent: Turn Around School?, March 12, 2014

[14] University of Virginia School Turnaround Program

[15] USOE letter to UVA: USOE Cohort 11 Recommendations, November 19, 2013

[16] State-Initiated School Turnaround Strategies, Leveraging the State Education Agency

[17] The Texas Turnaround Framework

[18] Letter To Dr. Lacy: Title I Complaint-Parental Involvement, May 8, 2014

[19] See page two of this complaint: SLASA Agreement

[20] Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado

[21] We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know by Gary Howard

[22] Ibid

[23] Title I and Parental Involvement by Karen Mapp


Comments are closed.