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Do non-Mormons, others face bias in Davis County schools?

Published May 23, 2014 12:58 pm

Civil rights • A Davis school board member's allegations include unfair practices in hiring, promoting.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The Davis School District discriminates against minorities, people with disabilities and non-Mormons when it comes to employment, resulting in poorer quality education for kids, a district board member alleges in a complaint he says he filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

In the complaint, board member David Lovato alleges that minorities and people with disabilities are underrepresented in the district's workforce; that the only out-of-state college the district recruits from is BYU-Idaho, a school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and that the district does not provide equal opportunities for promotion to disabled, minority, non-LDS or female employees.

He also alleges, among other things, that nepotism is a problem in hiring, and that minorities, people with disabilities and non-members of the LDS Church are excluded from participation on district-wide committees and an awards program.

"The Davis School District has an embedded business culture that promotes racism, prejudice and discrimination," Lovato wrote. "These practices harm adults, all children and youth and have a profound negative effect on school achievement, self-sufficiency and social-emotional growth."

Chris Williams, a spokesman for the Davis district, said Wednesday the district welcomes an investigation into the matter, but it would be inappropriate to say much else as the district had not yet formally received the complaint.

"There is no litmus test that we have — that you have to be a specific race, religion, color, gender or able-bodied individual — to work here," Williams said in an email. "We're looking for the best teachers, administrators and support personnel out there, period."

Board Vice President Burke Larsen said Wednesday afternoon he also had not yet officially received the complaint and didn't know the nature of Lovato's allegations. But he did say it's important to him and the board to provide quality educational opportunities to all students.

"The school board and me personally have compassionate feelings toward minority students in our district whose advantages are really not the same as in many homes where they have opportunities for vocabulary and participation in arts and sports, and we're doing as much as we can about that," Larsen said.

Attempts to reach board President Tamara Lowe for further comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Attempts to reach the Office for Civil Rights on Wednesday were also unsuccessful, but Lovato said the office called him Wednesday to confirm its receipt of the complaint.

Lovato, who is Latino and is in his fourth year on the board, said he regrets having to file a formal complaint but felt it was his only option.

"All those areas, I've tried to address with them before and they just keep ignoring me and not addressing the issues and nothing ever gets resolved," Lovato said. "Apparently, I can't hold them accountable but maybe if there's an outright investigation, they will be accountable to the Office of Civil Rights."

Also, he said he has nothing against Mormons but feels people of all faiths should be treated fairly.

"I'm not attacking the LDS religion, that's not my intent," said Lovato, who is not an LDS Church member. "It's just the favoritism they're showing to LDS employees is just blatant and not fair because you should acknowledge all religions equally."

In the complaint, Lovato asks the office to take a number of actions to correct the situation, including requiring the district to implement an affirmative action plan; develop plans and policies to recruit, promote and recognize more disabled, minority, female and non-LDS employees; investigate the recent resignation of the district's only black principal; and develop a plan to address the gaps between high school graduation rates of various student groups.