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Clara: Salt Lake City minority parents left out of principal selection

Published May 14, 2014 10:50 am

Education • Salt Lake City School Board member files civil rights action.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the Salt Lake City School District hired new principals this spring, it wrongly excluded minority parents from the process, a district board member alleges in a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

It's an allegation district leaders have refuted, saying no policies were violated.

Michael Clara, a member of the school board, sent the complaint Monday after questioning the hiring of new principals at Parkview Elementary and other west-side schools at a board meeting last week.

Clara alleges the district left parents out of the hiring process in violation of its own practices and agreements. In the complaint, he notes that most of the families at the schools he represents are racial minorities.

He claims it's part of a larger pattern of racism on the part of district leaders toward minority parents and students on the district's west side. He was the only board member to vote against hiring the principals May 6.

"I attribute that 6-to-1 vote as the result of White dominance on the board," Clara wrote in the complaint. "In violating their own principal hiring procedures for this particular school, the superintendent and school board have created an environment where the differential or biased treatment of ethnic and racial minority parents within the school district is a common and acceptable practice."

But Jason Olsen, a district spokesman, wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, "We do not believe we have committed any violations." That's partly because the schools are participating in a turnaround program that uses a different hiring process.

Board President Kristi Swett and board Vice President Heather Bennett declined to comment on the complaint Tuesday.

Clara points to the district's practice of shared governance with schools as evidence that district leaders should have included parents and teachers in principal hirings.

Also, in some circumstances, a school-organized selection team can screen, interview and recommend candidates to the superintendent, who may select a principal to be appointed by the board. That process, which can include school parents and employees on the screening teams, is described in a recently updated written understanding between the board and The Salt Lake Association of School Administrators.

Clara said no such team was involved in the hiring of the principal at Parkview and possibly other schools. He said it's unfair to allow more affluent communities in east-side schools to take part in selecting principals but not those on the west side.

At the previous board meeting, however, district Associate Superintendent Patrick Garcia said district leaders did not have to follow that process at Parkview and some other schools because they are part of a University of Virginia school turnaround program, which the district uses to develop leadership at some of its schools. As part of that program, the district hires principals using a separate process, Garcia said.

Clara also filed a complaint over the matter with the district's Title I director last week. Clara has filed at least three other civil rights complaints against the district in the past two years on separate matters.