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Timbercrest parents concerned about bullying and racism at school

The Woodinville Weekly of Woodinville, Washington

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A bullying incident that started with racial slurs and death threats directed at three black students at Timbercrest Junior High School in Woodinville has led to concerns about bullying and racism throughout the Nbrthshore School District.

At last week's school board meeting, a crowd of approximately 200 people listened as parents and students spoke to the Board about bullying and racism. Many spoke about the recent incidents at Timbercrest, while others told about bullying directed at their children because of disabilities, gender expression or other reasons.

Many parents, even those whose children haven't been bullied, were concerned about student safety, saying Timbercrest and NSD hadn't taken threats of violence and suicide seriously enough.

"Nochildissafeuntil every childis safe," many speakers told the school board last Tuesday night.

According to Dan Hamer, in April, his son and two other black students began receiving threats and racist comments from another student via group texts. The students involved are all eighth graders at Timbercrest.

The bully allegedly threatened to "shoot up the school" and bring agun to kill specific black students, as well as threatening to kill them with a knife, then kill himself. The student said he would join the KKK so he could lynch the black students, and called them "not human" and "ape men" and said they should "move to the jungle where they belong," Hamer reported.

Hamer said the student served two short suspensions but was allowed to return to school. Hamer pulled his son from school and obtained a protective court order; Northshore School District Communications Director Leanna Albrecht said the student accused of making the threats hasn't been in school since

May 11 and will not be returning to school this year.

NSD declined to confirm the details of any of the bullying incidents, citing student privacy and noting there is an ongoing investigation into the bullying at Timbercrest.

"The story here is not the troubled kid," Hamer said, but NSD's response. He said the district has been "adversarial" and "not willing to take it seriously, not willing to acknowledge it... not willing to take the corrective steps needed."

Jim and Michelle Wright, the parents of one of the other boys who was threatened, said the district's independent investigation is directed at the three boys who received threats after the bully accused them of bullying.

"In today's climate of increasingly common racial and school violence, you'd think somebody would have sounded the alarm and proper authorities would have been called to investigate, and consequences would follow," Michelle Wright said. "...Instead, my son and his friends were dealt a double blow — first, having to face the fact that somebody wants to kill you, being a 14-year-old boy, then having the offender, someone he doesn't really even know, turn the tables and accuse these boys of bullying."

NSD hired Laura Sell, a family law attorney with Stokes Lawrence in Seattle, to conduct an independent investigation into the bullying at Timbercrest. NSD Superintendent Larry Francois said he couldn't go into details about who was being investigated because of privacy, but said, "The investigator is looking at all aspects of the situation."

When the investigation is over, he said, the school district still won't be able to release information about the specific students involved, but could discuss broad themes such as "any guidance or feedback about where our process may have been deficient or where we could look for improvements."

"I realize that that's frustrating for people, because they want to know, and understandably so," Francois said. "In some respects, it would be helpful if we could share more information that would put people at ease. But we have to respect the privacy and confidentiality rights of students."

At the school board meeting last week, parents shared a multitude of stories about bullying that wasn't resolved to their satisfaction, suggesting the bullying at Timbercrest was not an isolated incident.

Tanzee Miller said her daughter, a seventh grader at Northshore Junior High, was atlunch when aboy she didn't know pulled her up and out of her seat by grabbing her hair, then dropped her back down. The adult monitoring the cafeteria told the boy to go to the principal and turn himself in for detention, but the boy didn't. When Miller discovered a quarter-sized chunk of hair missing from her daughter's scalp, she said the school could never figure out who the boy was.

Derek Smith came to the board meeting without knowing about the threats at Timbercrest, but he, too, had complaints about how administrators responded when his eighth-grade daughter was bullied and threatened at Canyon Park Junior High. Smith said a boy in his daughter's class repeatedly pretended to have a gun and a knife and threatened multiple times to kill Smith's daughter, then kill himself. Smith said he contacted Bothell Police, who filed charges against the boy, and he got a restraining order against the boy. But according to Smith, NSD was unwilling to help enforce the 30-foot restraining order and said it was the boy's responsibility to stay away.

"I'm sensing a pattern here," Smith said after hearing what's happened at Timbercrest. "I see it's part of the culture. To me, it looks like Northshore has an epidemic on their hands."

Several common themes emerged at last Tuesday's school board meeting, attended by 150 to 250people (estimates from NSD and attendees varied.) Many parents were concerned that an email fromthe Timbercrest principal downplayed the severity of the threats. Parents questioned why immediate action wasn't taken in the face of a death threat. Many speakers called for a district equity department that would report directly to the Board, as well as a threat assessment team. And many people said they don't believe these incidents of racism reflect the Northshore community's values.

The school board agreed to schedule a discussion of racism and diversity for its next meeting on June 9 at 4 p.m. Director Kimberly D'Angelo said the Board needs to review policies and do diversity training sooner rather than later.

"My concern is that the community believes the

Board is ignoring this, and so I have an issue with that, because I'm definitely not ignoring it," D'Angelo said.

Francois said the independent investigation will show whether district policies on harassment, discrimination and threats were followed. He added that although many parents called for the alleged Timbercrest bully to be permanently removed from school based on zero-tolerance policies, NSD is moving away from zero-tolerance policies that expel students based on one offense.

"Ourdistrict, similartostate law and federal law, are trying to move away from inflexible zero tolerance policies for a couple of reasons," Francois said. "One is that historically, those policies have been more negatively impactful to students of color.... The other reason for this movement away from zero tolerance policies is the sense, and I think we all can understand that, what good is being done for a student by having them permanendy removed from school? And while students need to be held accountable, they need to get help when they need help."

According to NSD's Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, the district will take "prompt" and "remedial" action on reports of harassment and discrimination, but the handbook doesn't specify penalties.

Chanin Kelly-Rae, who spoke at last week's Board meeting, was asked by Francois to help improve the culture and systems of the district. Kelly-Rae, a Bothell resident who said she pulled her sons out of NSD because she got tired of defending whether one of her sons was academically challenged or gifted and bored, is also a subject matter expert on diversity, inclusion and equity for the state of Washington and an adviser to Governor Inslee.

"I will offer you my professional assessment that the district has a challenge in both the areas of inclusion and cultural competency," Kelly-Rae told the Board.

The Northshore School District is predominantly white. According to state data, during the 2013-2014 school year, NSD was 12.5 percent Hispanic, 0.5 percent American Indian, 13.9 percent Asian, 1.8 percent black, 0.4 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 63.7 percent white and 7.4 percent two or more races.

At Timbercrest, the racial disparity is even more striking. 78.5 percent of students are white, l.lpercent are black and 7.4 percent are two or more races. The 1.1 percent of black students means only nine out of 839 students are black.

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Original Publication Date: June 1, 2015

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