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Salt Lake City schools discrimination complaint dismissed

Published June 28, 2014 12:04 pm

Salt Lake City • School board member's claim of discrimination is unfounded, rules chief attorney.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The federal government has dismissed a complaint filed by a Salt Lake City School District board member alleging the district wrongly excluded minority parents from the principal-hiring process at a west-side school.

In his original complaint filed in May, board member Michael Clara alleged the district left parents out of the hiring of a principal at Parkview Elementary in violation of its own practices and agreements. He claimed it was part of a larger pattern of racism on the part of district leaders.

District spokesman Jason Olsen, however, said at the time that district leaders did not believe they had committed any violations. That was partly because the school is in a turnaround program that uses a different hiring process than the one used at other district schools.

This week, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights agreed with the district.

Erica Austin, chief attorney with the office, wrote that the district's hiring of a principal for Parkview School was directly related to its status as a turnaround school.

"The action was taken to improve educational outcomes for the school's Title I students, who you indicate are almost exclusively minority students," Austin wrote to Clara. Title I programs aim to assist low-income students.

The selection process used by the district was allowed under regulations that govern actions taken to combat low performance by students "of a particular race, color, or national origin," Austin added.

In some circumstances within the district, a school-organized selection team can screen, interview and recommend candidates to the superintendent, who may select a principal to be appointed by the board. That process, which can include school parents and employees on the screening teams, is described in a recently updated written understanding between the board and the Salt Lake Association of School Administrators.

Clara said Friday he does not plan to appeal the decision though he doesn't totally agree with it.

"I agree with the logic of their conclusion but I don't agree with the fact that the parents and teachers were left out of the decision process to have this program in this school," Clara said, noting he feels that parents should have had more of a say about whether they wanted Parkview to be a turnaround school.

Olsen said in an email Friday: "Our principal selection process is robust, comprehensive, and targeted at providing the best available leadership for our schools. Our single purpose is to provide the best possible learning opportunity for the children of Salt Lake City, and our principals are an essential part of that effort."

Board vice president Heather Bennett also said the district's goal is to, "recruit, hire, and retain excellent teachers and administrators in every public school. We will work to ensure that our process is consistent and clearly communicated in each unique situation and that community and employee input is heard and respected."

State Superintendent Martell Menlove also this week responded to a somewhat similar complaint that Clara had filed in May, also regarding the principal selection process and parental involvement. In his response, Menlove said the district did not violate federal law. Clara, however, said he plans to appeal that decision to the U.S. Department of Education.

Clara also filed a complaint in February against the district alleging its female cafeteria workers have been subjected to a "hostile and intimidating" work environment. In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights sent Clara a letter saying the complaint did not fall within its jurisdiction, and he should file his complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other parts of that same complaint were forwarded to the National School Lunch Program for review.