Letter to Editor: Mitchells rebuff investigation, say there is more to story
My husband Clay and I have two children in the Sargent School District, and I am a member of the Sargent School District Board of Education. We focus on resilience and grit in everything we do. We recognize the need for continual self-improvement and growth, and we are working on that with the district.
Imagine our feelings when we received death threats. Imagine our frustration when after three years of advocating for our child, we had to use outside services for assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities. Imagine our concern in observing mistreatment of staff members who leave the district mid-year.
Currently, allegations exist against my husband and myself related to our actions within the Sargent District. These allegations contain false information and information taken out of context.
In truth, my husband and I have been critical of the district because of challenges with our children. These challenges include a failure to provide assessment, failure to provide agreed upon services for speech therapy and reading interventions, lack of gifted and talented programming, and disclosure of confidential information. These problems continue.
This year, we were asked to complete gifted and talented programming for our child at home and in the most recent round of state testing, necessary accommodations for our child were not provided. Additionally, sensitive meeting notes about our child were found on the playground in April of 2022.
Also of great concern, the district has created situations where individual students and staff members are marginalized based on association, race, and religious belief. These issues represent the basis of the complaint I filed in January.
To be clear, I am not worried about the prayer of one student, at one event. I am concerned about the culture of the district and the creation of an inclusive environment where all families feel welcomed.
The investigation conducted on the complaint was a sham — the investigator did not interview material witnesses or identify the legal standards she used to reach her conclusions. Unfortunately, on April 25 at a public meeting, the Board and staff members compounded this problem and retaliated against me for complaining about civil rights violations.
The investigative reports by Mrs. Martinez were incompetent in every respect. She did not describe the legal standards under review, she did not interview relevant witnesses, and she was tainted by bias from the start.
This is textbook arbitrary and capricious conduct, and it was rubber stamped by a majority of the Board in its vote of censure.
Other individuals have complained about racism, religion, and freedom of expression. A 2021 complaint from a parent group noted that a district employee used a racial slur. In a parent survey it was reported that “Also if your ethnicity is not Caucasian and have money, then people look down on you and don’t talk to you. Makes people feel like they do not belong.”
My husband and I believe in standing up for what is right in all cases. Critically, standing up for a person’s rights, including civil rights and Constitutional rights, is not “blackmail” or “harassment.”
The only media posts my husband and I have created related to the district are presentations of data and facts. We have shared information on district performance levels, district enrollment, etc. This information is publicly available. It was done in the spirit of improvement. To address and solve problems we must acknowledge their existence and look for solutions.
I am accountable for my actions as a Board member. However, during the April board meeting staff members attempted to re-write history related to my voting record. It was stated that I abstained on Mr. Crowther’s contract due to a conflict of interest, but then voted no on Mrs. Hemmerling’s contract when an investigation was ongoing.
I never stated that I had a conflict of interest. I abstained because the motion that was made to renew Mr. Crowther’s contract also contained a motion to approve a leave of absence for another staff member. Please listen to the Feb. 28 board recording, you will hear that I asked a question related to the leave of absence and then voted to abstain. I was advised by district legal counsel that I could sit on the interview committee for Mrs. Hemmerling and that I could vote on the renewal of her contract.
Staff members have stated that I refused to return keys. Neither my husband nor I have ever been asked to return keys. In fact, in January we were issued an additional key fob. Additionally, Mr. VanBibber himself loaned us his keys on April 16.
Conflict that exists between the district and my husband and I is not related to the religious views of anyone, nor is the conflict directed at any one person. Rather it is related to fundamental differences in opinion on education and inclusivity.
The attempt to re-write history and place blame on us is a deflection from the difficulties the district faces related to educational performance and in serving children.
For example, in 2021, only 13% of sixth grade students were proficient in math. It is important to remember the lack of credible information that has already been supplied to the public.
In February, we heard that I was attempting to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from the school and that I filed a lawsuit against teachers. As can be seen from the release of my complaint, these rumors are not true.
Clay and I continue to volunteer for the district. We have coached almost every pee-wee sport imaginable, we have installed playground equipment, pulled weeds, picked up trash, fixed and installed projectors, donated money, served on committees, coordinated fundraisers, and volunteered in the classroom.
There is much more to this story, but we are limited in space. We hope you will recognize the passion we bring to advocating for children.
We ask you to critically think about the materials that are being presented to you and carefully consider allegations brought forth without evidence and conclusions that have been created by only looking at one side of the story.
Gina and Clay Mitchell