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Washoe County School Board Fires Superintendent

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(AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

Traci Davis, superintendent of the Washoe County School District, speaks to reporters Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, at the school district's headquarters in Reno, Nev., a day after a campus police officer shot a knife-wielding student at Hug High School. The school board voted to fire Davis on Monday.

Washoe County School District's board of trustees voted Monday to terminate Superintendent Traci Davis, ending a weeks-long battle between the district's board and its top executive.

The board accused Davis of sharing confidential information with a former employee who was the subject of a misconduct investigation and was later fired, but she denies the claim.​

Davis, whose lawyer says the district doesn't have sufficient evidence to justify firing her, has said she's prepared to sue the district.

For their part, district officials say that even if she didn't intentionally pass information to someone during an investigation, she allowed those records to be shared along due to negligence. They say that under her employment contract, that's reason enough to fire her.​

The dispute came to light last month when the school district board of trustees placed Davis on an indefinite leave of absence.   

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At first, they didn’t offer an explanation for why Davis was put on leave, but the school board announced there would be a special meeting to review Davis’s character and alleged misconduct. 

There was a lot of public back and forth between the district, Davis and lawyers for both sides, but the most dramatic development was that the board of trustees closed district offices last week because they said Davis was planning to return to work and cause disruptions.  

Davis told the Reno Gazette-Journal that this indicated “racial issues” at the district and compared herself to the Central Park Five, five young black men who were falsely accused of beating and raping a white woman in New York City in the 80s.  

During Monday’s meeting, the board handed out a fact sheet that included quotes from several text messages sent between former district employees.

The board says these were sent during a different investigation into misconduct by another former staffer from 2017. The texts showed that district staff members, who were close to Davis, were feeding confidential information to the person under investigation. 

Before they voted to fire Davis, several board members said they believed she had deliberately fed that information to the accused through other members of the staff.

However, trustee Angela Taylor acknowledged during yesterday’s meeting that the board’s report did not directly show that Davis had intentionally shared the confidential information – rather, she said it was strong circumstantial evidence of either wrongdoing or negligence.

School Board President Katy Simon Holland said whether intentional or not - it violated her employment agreement.

“I find there is substantial evidence that Ms. Davis’s actions and/or non-actions constitute acts of dishonesty, unethical conduct and gross negligence in the performance of her duties under her employment agreement,” Holland said.  

After the board voted to fire her, Davis spoke to reporters outside the meeting. She said she wasn’t surprised by the vote: 

It’ll be interesting to see what happens later,” Davis said, “You know how this works, we walked in here knowing this was going to be an outcome. We also walked in here knowing we were going to sue the district if the outcome wasn’t appropriate.”  

Davis has been given earned benefits that she accrued and a $15,000 deferred compensation contribution – $122,412.79 altogether. Since the board terminated her contract for cause, she’s not eligible for severance.  

Holland said in a press conference afterward that if Davis does sue, and the judge rules in her favor, the termination could be changed to one without cause. That would mean she’d be given a severance package of more than $400,000.

Dr. Norris Dupree, who does implicit bias training with the school district and law enforcement agencies in Reno, told the board during the meeting they had problems with leaders who are minorities. The last superintendent, Pedro Martinez, was also fired under acrimonious circumstances.

Dupree said the district has a pattern of treating people of color differently, not just administrators but students, as well.  He said he has witnessed teachers treating students of color differently in the classroom, for example.  

Dupree, who is black, also said that the public disagreement over the Davis issue is louder in minority communities because it indicates this double standard: 

There is extreme hurt in the black community about what has gone down,” he said, “There’s just extreme… and people feel like... somebody asked me, ‘do you feel this is racist?’ Look this is to me about facts, but I’m trying to tell you there’s a pattern. You have to look at the pattern. And I believe if you take a look at the pattern, go back and look at some of the things that have been written about Traci from the inception, before these investigations. You asked me, you ask the question: who’s been treated like that? 

Cori Zancanella is a teacher in Washoe County. She was at the meeting to advocate for reform across the district leadership. She believes the case against Davis is a question of scapegoating one official in a school district that has a lot of problems. 

We’ve lost six teachers this year I believe. And I’m a relatively new teacher, I just got my master’s last year, but I’m already considering different career options and don’t feel proud to say I work with Washoe County right now. Which makes me sad because I love my work on a day to day basis, but I don’t love that I have to be involved in these meetings as much,” she said. 

Several educators and parents from the district who spoke during the meeting said similar things. Some of them even said district employees are being pressured to inflate grades and doctor attendance records by leadership, because they’re focused on raising graduation rates any way they can. For people who see these problems at the district, the termination of Traci Davis isn’t going to do much to ease their concerns. 

Guests

Bert Johnson, producer, State of Nevada

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