By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium Newspaper
The Seattle King County NAACP is calling for the removal of Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Superintendent Denise Juneau by The Seattle School Board.
At a press conference, held Tues. afternoon, the organization called on the School Board to remove Juneau as superintendent based on allegations of systemic racism, sexism, cronyism, disparate treatment and nepotism as it relates to the employment of African American employees and other people of color.
Recently, Clyde Merriwether, a retiree and civil rights activist, has been very outspoken about disparities in the employment and advancement of African American employees in the district, including what appears to be a lack of upward mobility in management, supervisory and decision-making positions.
“I have spent some time recently researching what appears to be systemic racial issues, problems, and practices in the Seattle School District,” says Merriwether.
“In seeking out information on this subject, I have discovered that there appears to be a longhistory of alleged discriminatory practices, primarily against African Americans, males in particular,” Merriwether continued. “The alleged methodologies for implementation of these practices vary. In a like manor, the reasons and purposes for these practices also vary and it appears that many of the alleged practices have gone on without proper oversight and/or appropriate disciplinary action for some time.”
Merriwether is particularly concerned about alleged issues relating to the workforce in the maintenance divisions of the district, which, according to Merriwether, is predominately comprised of minorities, but says that similar allegations are also being made by counselors, administrators and people in decision-making positions who have allegedly experienced demotions, displacements, and firing according to findings.
“There has been and continues to be a tracible pattern of questionable demotions, restricted opportunity, and exclusion from decision making positions,” Merriweather explains. “Placement into non-effective positions with some created specifically to pacify expressed advancement concerns but having no meaningful power, pumped up charges leading to dismissals, the providing of uncomfortable working environments, and other means limiting meaningful advancement of African American males are prevalent within the system.”
According to Gerald Hankerson, President of the Alaska, Oregon and Washington State Area Conference of the NAACP, Juneau has had a rocky relationship with both the African American and the Native American communities with regards to the education standards of their children during her tenure as superintendent.
Hankerson claims that Juneau was under scrutiny prior to coming to Seattle, while serving as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Montana, and believes that she was not thoroughly vetted by the Seattle School Board before they hired her.
“We have actually done an investigation as to why Juneau has been so resistant to African American concerns and we learned that before she left Montana to come and take the position as superintendent, she was under DOJ investigations for the exact same allegations with the Native American community in Montana,” says Hankerson.” I feel the Seattle School District did not do their due diligence to see exactly who they were bringing in as a hire for Superintendent and this person [Juneau] can no longer serve in the leadership role when it comes to the development of our Black and Brown kids in Seattle.”
According to community activist Eddie Rye, Jr., the allegations against Juneau don’t stop there. Rye claims that, under Juneau’s tenure, she has systematically removed Black males from leadership positions in the district. The allegations supporting this claim include the questionable demotion, firing and displacement of several Black males in both education and administrative roles in the district.
“Black men have been targeted by Denise Juneau to emasculate them,” says Rye. “It is really unfortunate and very sexist. She is in the wrong city and the wrong state, she needs to go back to where that is acceptable, it is not acceptable here for sexism and racism to be alive and well in Seattle Public Schools and be embraced by anyone.”
Seattle Public Schools did not release an official statement regarding the NAACP’s demand, but they did release “a brief summary of data, programs and examples that reflect the district’s unwavering commitment to racial justice in public education as outlined in our strategic plan, Seattle Excellence,” that the district says represents the work they have done over the last couple of years.
The list included, among other things:
• Prioritization of thirteen elementary schools with a high percentage of African American male students in support of our 3rd grade reading goal. Schools have received enhanced professional development, coaching, and resources. Launched the Seattle Super Reader Campaign in partnership with Seattle Public Library and other community organizations. Have distributed over 62,000 books for student home libraries with a prioritized focus on the 13 schools. Created “Black Boy Joy” reading lists for students and families in partnership with SPL.
• SPS Dept. of Equity, Partnerships & Engagement hosted Equity Synergy Retreat– a collective of Communities of Color, committees including Equity & Race Advisory Committee, African American Male Achievement Committee, Disproportionality in Discipline, and district staff. Supt. Juneau opened the event, reaffirming the commitment to SPS becoming an anti-racist organization (Oct. 3, 2020).
• In alignment with Seattle Excellence goals the district increased hiring staff of color over the last three years. For the 2020-21 school year, SPS has surpassed its diversity hiring goal by an average of 10%.