Rantz: Seattle School Board hides findings that its members harassed Black staff

Nov 28, 2021, 8:06 PM | Updated: Nov 30, 2021, 8:49 am
Seattle school board directors Zachary DeWolf (L) and Chandra Hampson (R).

Two woke Seattle Public School board directors who claim to be anti-racist progressives were found guilty of harassing, intimidating, and bullying Black staff. They barely got a slap on the wrist.

But the district is doing what it can to keep the report from public view. Some school board directors even declined to be interviewed for fear their comments would become public record.

Seattle Public Schools hired MFR Law Group PLLC (MFR) to conduct an extensive investigation into school board directors Chandra Hampson and Zachary DeWolf. They were accused of waging sexist and anti-Black harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) campaigns against two Black female SPS staff.

The investigation is damning — both for the directors who misbehaved and the complainants who use their wokeness to prove any investigation into “anti-Blackness” would be futile. Indeed, they seem upset that an investigation would occur and that their claims aren’t believed at face value.

But you won’t find the report on the district’s website. The board voted to withhold the information from online publication in an apparent move to keep the adverse findings from the public spotlight.

Consequently, media coverage has been scant and inadequate. What was provided offered little insight into the total claims and ignored the complainants’ take on the process.

The accusations against Hampson and DeWolf

Ironically, the complaints came out of work on a draft policy concerning anti-racism.

Dr. Keisha Scarlett, the SPS Chief of Equity, Partnerships, and Engagement, and Manal Al-ansi, the Director of Racial Equity Advancement, alleged an “orchestrated campaign of bullying, escalating intimidation, gaslighting, and retaliation” that lasted for months.

Scarlett and Al-ansi outlined the complaints in a memo titled “Bullying, Intimidation, and Anti-Black Racism,” which was sent to the full board and then-SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau. It was dated Sept. 18, 2020.

“Our safety, legitimacy as leaders, unique and necessary lived perspectives, and material contributions have been routinely marginalized and discredited in accordance with our proximity and alignment with white-centric institutional norms, and these Board Directors’ views,” they wrote in the memo.

Both Hampson and DeWolf, according to the complainants, were upset that they lost control over the anti-racism policy to two Black women. Emails and meeting notes appear to back this claim.

For example, in one email, DeWolf called out Scarlett’s “dishonesty” in claiming she was working with him on the anti-racism policy. His complaint appears to come from her wanting to work more independently from him.

Hampson, meanwhile, wanted to vote on the anti-racism policy instead of waiting for more community engagement, arguing it’s already been done. She repeatedly said she was elected to do this work and appeared upset that her authority and duty were questioned.

But Scarlett and Al-ansi wanted more legitimate community engagement with the Black community before passing the policy. They complained that they were “being tokenized” in the policy’s development.

The ‘worst’ phone call in history

The tension came to a head during an Aug. 28, 2020, phone call between Hampson, DeWolf, the complainants, and SPS staff. Hampson had been a last-minute addition to the conference call.

One witness called it ‘”worst’ meeting she had ever experienced.”

Another witness said that “DeWolf began raising his voice and accused [the complainants] of being dishonest about their collaboration on the policy.” She said that “it seemed he felt the need to put them in their place.”

When one of the complainants wondered if a miscommunication could have led to the belief that they were working independent of the school board members, the witness said, “DeWolf was relentless in his negative admonishing and chastising tone, which set the stage for a terrible conversation.”

DeWolf told MFR investigators, according to the report, that “he was not scolding [the complainant], because he does not like conflict, and he was trying to be super-intentional and gentle with his language.”

Hampson had ‘darts’ out for complainants

Then Hampson started to “berate the staff members and [one of] the complainants with accusations.” The witness said that Hampson was “lying” about some of the allegations made against the complainant.

When Al-ansi attempted to explain why her ties to the local Black communities would help tweak the policy, Hampson interrupted to scoff at the woman’s bona fides.

“I’m sorry. Is there a reason you telling me this? Do I need to pull out my resume?” she asked, according to witness testimony.

“I have been doing this for 30+ years, and I don’t need to hear your qualifications. I don’t know what you’re getting at by sharing yours,” Hampson added, according to the witness.

“It was clear Hampson had darts for both of them,” the witness told MFR investigators.

Hampson told MFR investigators that she was being disrespected as a school board director.

Another meeting, more conflict

There was another meeting between the board directors and the complainants on Sept. 16, 2020. The superintendent was in attendance.

As Scarlett was discussing her desire to ensure the policy is a “pro-Black anti-racist policy,” she was repeatedly interrupted by DeWolf.

“This is my Executive Committee meeting if you could please wrap up your remarks,” he said, according to minutes printed in the investigation.

He made these comments several times. It was an attempt to limit Scarlett’s contributions to the meeting.

Findings against Hampson

Hampson appears easily slighted and is disrespectful to many people.

But the investigation said her treatment of Scarlett and Al-ansi was not based on race or gender, as alleged.

MFR investigators did, however, find that Hampson “used her position and authority to the detriment” of the complainants. She coordinated with DeWolf in an attempt to limit the complainants from speaking about their work on the policy and from offering input.

The conduct violated SPS’s policy against harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB).

Findings against DeWolf

MFR investigators said DeWolf repeatedly and persistently mistreated the two complainants, violating the HIB policy.

But they did not find evidence that DeWolf discriminated against, harassed, intimidated, or bullied either Scarlett or Al-ansi “based solely on race.”

They also said he “used his position and authority to the detriment” of the complainants. The findings call his conduct “unprofessional.”

They found “mixed and inconclusive” evidence to show the conduct was based on gender. The findings note that four of the 13 witnesses they interviewed “opined that Dir. DeWolf engaged more harshly, disrespectfully, and/or rudely with women, regardless of race.” But others note he’s rude to everyone — regardless of gender.

Complainants weren’t happy with the investigation, either

Scarlett and Al-ansi did not appear pleased with the process.

According to the investigation, both complainants claimed that HIB investigations are not good enough to uncover implicit bias and anti-Blackness. Al-ansi noted that DeWolf was “pushing for a HIB investigation” because he is “familiar with the law and the level of scrutiny that is required around a racial claim.”

She calls it an “institutional tactic” where DeWolf “is trying to find a different way to discredit their named experiences.”

“The choice to move forward with an investigation is the most institutionally racist way you can do it,” Al-ansi wrote, according to the investigation. “This behavior is always done to Black folks and holds up anti-Blackness. If you feel you are being discriminated against, you need to prove it with the highest level of scrutiny.”

According to the investigation, both DeWolf and Hampson “felt it important to move forward with an investigation so that it was clear they were not being held to a different standard or process than other SPS staff.”

The complainants said that even though they didn’t push for a HIB investigation, they will “be positive” about it.

According to district policy, the investigation was compulsory since they did not successfully mediate their dispute.

Hampering the investigation

The investigation itself was extensive. MFR investigators interviewed 20 witnesses and reviewed over 5,600 documents. But some witnesses and school board directors got in the way.

An unnamed board director who worked closely with DeWolf in 2020 declined an interview. And “other directors and witnesses” declined their opportunity to speak, too. They “expressed concerns about the expected Public Records Act disclosures after the investigation concluded.”

The report also notes that “some witnesses asked MFR not to take notes during parts of their interviews.”

But given the events of a recent school board meeting, this shouldn’t come as a shock.

School Board tries to bury the investigation’s findings

The school board attempted to bury the report.

Normally, this investigation would be posted online three days ahead of a school board meeting. But on Sept. 9, 2021, a month after the report was submitted, the board voted to waive the requirement that it be posted online. It still has not been posted on the board’s website. It’s been made available only through a public disclosure request.

The board did, however, vote to take action on the investigation. It only requested Hampson and DeWolf review the policy the investigation said they violated. And, moving forward, new school board members would be required to take training on HIB conduct.

The current policy doesn’t codify any punishment for HIB conduct, so neither Hampson nor DeWolf were punished.

What happens to Hampson and DeWolf?

Hampson and DeWolf are no strangers to controversy.

When not harassing Black, female staff, they fought to keep dangerous homeless encampments on school property, including one that housed a sex offender. In other words, they are far-left activists who don’t practice what they preach on anti-racism, nor do they serve the kids they are supposed to protect.

DeWolf did not run for re-election and will suffer no immediate political consequences as a result. He’s no longer in office, with Nov. 17, 2021, being his last day serving on the school board.

Hampson, on the other hand, is in office until 2023 and it’s unclear if she’ll run for re-election. Any immediate political consequences are unknown.

Where was the media?

Seattle media deserves to be called out on this. Where were they? Better yet: Where are they?

Try searching for this story on the websites for KIRO 7, KING 5, KOMO News, or FOX 13. Nothing comes up. The only somewhat meaningful reporting on this complaint came from the Seattle Times. They inexplicably chose not to embed the actual investigation, nor did they examine who made the complaints. The Stranger, normally interested in amplifying claims of racism, offered the bare minimum in covering the story, only to link to the Seattle Times.

I certainly understand that SPS did not make it easy to track this story. I found out about this a week or so before my vacation, thanks to a listener tip. While I started to look into it then, I purposefully withheld my reporting until now. I wanted it to get out after Thanksgiving, as stories printed the week before the holiday tend to get lost.

But why did it take the Seattle Times months to cover? It was public during the September school board hearing. The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH has a staff of one when it comes to reporting and research: I’m the one. But the Seattle Times has an entire education section of their paper. They couldn’t get to this sooner?

And why haven’t local TV stations picked the story up in any meaningful way? They’re always quick to lift other people’s stories and present them as their own. Believe me, I know. Yet here they won’t?

Melissa Westbrook’s local blog — which I just discovered — actually covered this story back in October. Kudos to her.

Did the investigation get it right?

I think the investigation was correct in noting there was no evidence to suggest Hampson or DeWolf targeted Scarlett or Al-ansi for their racial or gender identities. They were targets because the school board directors are rabid left-wing activists who want to play savior to the city’s minority communities.

Hampson and DeWolf come off as petty public servants because that’s precisely what they are. It doesn’t help that they’re insufferably rude, either.

Scarlett and Al-ansi, who have escaped media scrutiny, should also be called out. They were victims of HIB, no doubt. But they are also fringe partisans who set up their complaint to fail when they claimed concern over the process not being able to weed out implicit bias.

Their feelings about why or how they were targeted do not replace the need for evidence. And their commitment to turning an anti-racist policy into a “pro-Black anti-racist policy” is instructive. They’re not against racism; they want to favor one racial group over others. That’s quite clearly the opposite of being an anti-racist.

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Parler, and like me on Facebook.  

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Rantz: Seattle School Board hides findings that its members harassed Black staff