Too Little, Too Late?

A group of Tucson High employees worry about retaliation and want to know why it took TUSD administration six months to finally investigate their allegations

Six months ago, five Tucson High Magnet School employees met with Tucson Unified School District Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, handing him a signed wrongful conduct and discrimination complaint detailing allegations of student safety and discrimination.

Since then not much has happened, although the original copy of the complaint went missing and they had to provide another. They also recently found out that a TUSD attorney was assigned to investigate the complaint—going against their request that their allegations be investigated by an outside independent entity.

The Tucson Weekly was recently provided a copy of a letter dated March 4, 2014 and addressed to TUSD legal counsel Nancy Woll from the employees on their concerns that the district was not using an independent investigator due to the conflict that exists as a TUSD attorney and why it had taken so long to address their complaints. The employees met with the Weekly on Monday, March 10 to talk about their allegations, but asked for anonymity due to fears of retaliation by the TUSD administration and Tucson High Principal Clarice Clash, a focus of most of the complaint.

Each month since handing over that complaint, according to those employees, has been fraught with worry, especially when they were told the first complaint provided to Sanchez went missing. They said they also found themselves in the position of having to check on the complaint's status almost weekly until they were finally told recently that Woll was starting an investigation.

"On top of enduring the intolerable treatment that brought us to file our complaint six months ago, the unjust treatment which we have experienced since then has compounded the situation and the old saying, 'it has added insult to injury' is vividly applicable," they wrote to Woll in the March 4 letter.

The bulk of the allegations focus on what they consider "deteriorating management of discipline." In their letter to Woll, they wrote that their allegations given to Sanchez in August 2013, mapped out a contrast with how Latino students are disciplined compared to how African-American students are disciplined, with it seeming as if African-American students are provided special treatment and penalized less. They also said that a big part of the problem are cuts made to security staff, particularly liaisons.

According to the employees, the issues started in the 2012-2013 school year under former Superintendent John Pedicone and during Clash's first year as principal of the district's largest high school. Sanchez was hired in July 2013, and the employees said they thought the new superintendent would react swiftly to address their concerns. During their first meeting, Sanchez promised an investigation and said he'd provide more security staff the next day, but that never happened.

In their letter to Woll: "Dr. Sanchez promised immediate action and even stated he would have extra security staff on the campus the very following day. The actions he promised did not come to fruition the following day or any day thereafter. We should have realized much earlier than now that our complaint was not going to be treated with any serious and professional regard."

Listed in their letter, the employees listed the following allegations they said were detailed in their complaint given to Sanchez:

"the blatant tolerance for discipline infractions which has taken place under the current administration—beginning with last school year and continuing up to the present;

"resulting false appearance in data that disciplinary infractions have decreased at THMS;

"the elimination of the liaison position and function (resulting in further erosion in dealing with discipline on the campus);

"the divisive actions taken by the administration which have resulted in an intimidated and splintered faculty and staff;

"the irregular and unprofessional hiring and employment practices which have been imposed, which manifest favoritism and perpetuate discriminatory practices;

"the retaliatory actions taken against any employee who questions any of these decisions."

The Weekly called TUSD seeking comment and left a message for TUSD Chief Legal Counsel Julie Tolleson and Clash. Neither have returned our calls as of press time. However, Cara Rene, TUSD director of communications and media relations, responded by email the district can't comment because it is an open investigation.

During the 2012-1013 school year, those working as liaisons—who work with teachers and school administration identfying at-risk students and security issues within the school and the school's perimeter—were brought to TUSD administration and told by Pedicone that the district would eliminate liaisons due to liability issues when a former liaison was caught in a compromising situation with a 15-year-old student in 2012.

The employees told the Weekly that they were later told by Clash that it was due to funding issues. The small group of former liaisons who work at the high school now are called hall monitors and they no longer have the same powers or ability to handle discipline issues. Funding concerns, they said, make little sense, when the school administration is reportedly spending about $2,500 a week to pay teachers to walk to the halls during the lunch break.

However, these changes, due to funding or liability, have created an unsafe campus that has created safety and security issues that have spilled into the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the Roskruge Middle School campus. Most troubling, they said, is what they see as an obvious change in policy in how students are disciplined.

"There is a blatant pattern of African-American students being disciplined less harshly," one employee said, "while that's not the case with Hispanic students." While the employees said they are unsure if the preferences are due to the fact that Clash is herself African-American, but the preferences seen between student discipline are also seen with staff hiring, they allege.

"It has created a hostile work environment, and morale is at an all-time low, not just with support staff, but teachers, too," one person said. "No matter. What we stated in our complaint to Sanchez is an ongoing violation of state and federal mandates, as well as the (desegregation) unitary status plan."

The liaison program was created in the 1990s to deal with a large gang problem at the high school, and it was successful, they said. Now, with the liaison and cuts in other security staff, changes in discipline, which also includes allegations that staff are told to not call the Tucson Police Department when issues come up, although one employee said TPD response is actually higher because now police are responding to issues off campus and have to come on campus to talk to the administration.

One incident they shared concerned the parents of a student injured during an altercation were told police were not called. They were allegedly encouraged to call police from their home. However, the frustrated parents stayed and called from campus. The other issue in their allegations is that discipline infractions and issues are no longer documented in the district's Mojave computer system. The quandary is that this is making it seem like there are less discipline issues, especially with African-American students—showing less TPD calls and less discipline problems overall.

The employees said the numbers now reported to TUSD administration look like a huge change has occurred, when it hasn't. For example, discipline figures reported in 2009-2010 for everything from lunch detentions to full suspensions came in at 3,117 and for 2012-2013 they were reported at less than 1,200 students disciplined.

"Our main concern is for the safety of all students," an employee said. "Right now there's so much finger-pointing going on."