Clover Codd choked up briefly as Seattle School Board members questioned how her department planned to tell the public that it was treating teacher misconduct seriously.
“The hurt that’s going on right now? We’re hurting, too,” Codd, the leader of Seattle Public Schools’ Human Relations division, said at a public meeting Wednesday night. “We are working not just diligently, but at fast-paced speed to get all the reforms in place … I want to get to perfect.”
She added, “We’ll never get to perfect and we’ll never be able to stop bad people from doing bad things to kids.”
The meeting came in the wake of a KUOW investigation, released Jan. 24, which shed light on 10 cases in which the district disciplined educators for abusing students but allowed them to continue teaching. The stories pointed to instances where past discipline and allegations of abuse weren’t acknowledged as teachers were hired or investigated for misconduct.
Since then, the district has put a Washington Middle School teacher mentioned in the investigation on administrative leave. To address concerns that principals weren’t responding to parents’ reports, SPS staff created an email address for the public to send tips about teacher misconduct, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Starting this summer, the district will also automatically supply school principals with employee records to help inform hiring decisions. Currently, principals have to request files — some of which are on paper and go back “20 to 30 years,” said Codd.
The work session on the district’s enrollment and human relations departments was mostly procedural, until the conversation turned to employee investigations. Board members pressed for more information about the department’s process for investigating complaints, how school officials planned to make the public aware of reporting procedures and what behavior qualifies as misconduct.
Board member Liza Rankin said the district needs to conduct regular criminal background checks for teachers, from the time they are hired through the duration of their employment. Board members wanted the district to improve training for staff on inappropriate behavior and mandatory reporting.
Tina Meade, the district’s civil rights compliance officer, explained that each school had two posters listing an email and phone number to report harassment and discrimination. A tense exchange followed.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry — did we just say that every school building has two posters with an email address on it?” asked board member Brandon Hersey.
“And phone numbers,” said Meade. “Correct.”
Hersey’s eyes widened.
Codd jumped in, saying the district planned to create a new training video for staff outlining misconduct and sexual harassment that is “not from 1998.”
“I see your look on your face. Maybe still not enough,” Codd said. “But that has been our practice and that meets the legal standard.”
Hersey, who teaches in Federal Way, said he appreciated the answer, but stressed that training videos and posters were not an acceptable response.
“No question posters are not enough,” said Meade, adding that the staff hadn’t had the capacity to provide in-person training at all schools.
Codd said she was aware of issues in her department before KUOW published its investigation. A year ago, she had commissioned a review of the department, which outlined 22 areas for improvement, including what reviewers described as a “fragmented, manual, and paper-based case management” process. The department has completed 10 of those suggested reforms so far, she said, including a staff reorganization.
The department’s School Board presentation also mentioned that it has cut down on its months-long backlog of open misconduct cases, another issue mentioned in the review.
“We’re not hiding problems,” said Codd. “When we got into labor and employee relations, it was a mess. There were files under people’s desks. I would ask how many harassment, bullying and intimidation cases we had, and it would take a month to get me an estimate.”
Codd, Superintendent Denise Juneau, School Board President Zachary DeWolf and Hersey heard from community members at a Thursday evening meeting on the issue at Garfield High School.