TUKWILA, Wash. -- Students at Foster High School walked out of class Friday in support of teachers and staff who claimed their district superintendent uttered racial slurs at them.
It was the third time in a week Foster students staged a walk out. They coordinated Friday's demonstration at begin at the same time testimony regarding Superintendent Ethelda Burke would be heard by investigators.
Nine black teachers and staff members claim Burke, who is also black, made racist and derogatory remarks to them. They filed racial discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and are calling for Burke to be suspended.
Joan Mell, the attorney representing the nine complainants, says others have come forward sharing similar stories about Burke.
The Tukwila School Board began hearing testimony Thursday night in a closed-door meeting. No decision was made before the meeting adjourned.
On Friday, the board issued a statement reiterating that it will not rush to judgment in the case. The full text of the statement is below:
Last night the Tukwila School District Board of Directors met in executive session to discuss legal matters with counsel. Our state's law and district's policies recognize the need to sometimes meet in this way.
We were not there to make any decisions and none were made. We were there to better understand our legal obligations and to receive information on the discrimination complaints that have been presented.
As we have previously stated, the board takes these charges of discrimination very seriously.
Some who were present at last night's meeting were vocally pressing for a decision of some kind to be made. On the one hand, a quick decision favorable to those who were pressing for action might make it less uncomfortable for the board. On the other hand, we each knew that doing so at this very early stage in the process would fail to protect the due process rights that all employees share. It also might lead to a bad decision.
While the particular issue in question focuses on our superintendent, we must be concerned about protecting the due process rights of all staff, students and the community. Our processes affect people's lives and livelihoods. Our approach must be fair.
This board will not be pushed into a premature judgment, no matter how vocal any group might be. We have to know more before taking action. If we were to act now, it would send the grim message that employees' rights can be circumvented just for expediency and outside pressure without regard to the facts.
We are one of the most diverse school districts in the country and have a special responsibility to uphold fairness to all.
We believe that an investigation will give us the information we need to take responsible action. We have directed our legal counsel to conduct such an investigation. That investigation is ongoing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also conducting an independent investigation. We believe that it benefits all concerned to come to a complete and thorough understanding of the facts so that we can have an honest and fair process.
Once again we ask that the Tukwila Community be patient with the process and support the board's efforts to keep heated emotion and premature judgment out of the decision making process. It is imperative that we show our children that we are above name calling and can focus on the issues in light of the full facts. When we have conversations on these issues, we should do so in a respectful manner. This will acknowledge our shared commitment to making Tukwila and its schools a place where all people can live together and without fear of our differences.