District workers accuse Tukwila superintendent of racial discrimination

Print
Email
|

by ELISA HAHN / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ElisaHahnK5

KING5.com

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 19 at 10:11 PM

Nine employees of the Tukwila School District have filed complaints of racial discrimination against their superintendent, Ethelda Burke. Their attorney filed the complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

They each have a story about the comments they've endured. They range from vice principals, to teachers, to dispatchers. 

"She said to me you have to stop being a big, black man scaring our white drivers," says Doc Fells, driver trainer and dispatcher for the district. "And it numbed me."

A group of female staffers at Showalter Middle School says their superintendent once referred to them as slaves. 

"I was pissed," says Marva Harris, school security officer.

"I couldn't believe my ears she would refer to professional African-American women as slaves," says teacher Sandra Goins.

J.D. Hill, athletic director and head of transportation, says Burke had a nickname for him.

"When I walked into her office she said 'Hey, J-Dark, how are you doing?' J-Dark was my name for Ethelda, my pet name for a month, in a professional environment," says Hill.

It's hard to imagine, especially in Tukwila, which has been recognized as the most diverse school in the country. Seventy percent of the kids are non-white.

But the allegations are even more shocking because Burke is black herself.

"You want to celebrate her," says Hill.

It wasn't until coworkers started talking to each other that they realized there was a widespread problem. And they admit their superintendent's race made them reluctant to put a stop to it.

"For me, I feel a sense of betrayal," says Harris. "That I'm betraying her, because she's a black woman."

"If she wasn't a person of color, me personally, I would have gone after her long before now," says Ritchie Coleman, a bus driver.

The district, the superintendent, and the board declined to comment citing personnel issues.

Burke came to the district in 2007 from Tacoma.

Joan Mell, the attorney representing the employees has written a letter asking the board for Burke's immediate suspension.

Print
Email
|