State Says Chase School Hostile Place Report Offers Only Vague Ideas For Resolving Conflict

A state report released Tuesday says issues of race, gender and personal relationships created “a hostile working, teaching and learning environment” at Chase Middle School.

The report refers vaguely to evidence of “administrative ‘paralysis”’ as contributing to controversies surrounding a faculty dispute.

Both sides in the dispute criticized the report and its recommendations, saying it does little to help ease tensions.

The report:

Includes eight recommendations for Lionel Harding-Thomas, an African-American counselor and subject of harassment complaints from some staff.

Calls on staff to “be open to new ideas on how to address issues of race, gender and socioeconomic status.”

Charges school administrators to “use the evaluation process for more effective monitoring of performance.”

Without vindicating or blaming anyone, the report offers broad recommendations for all those involved.

The Chase controversy - simmering since last fall - erupted three weeks ago after staff members’ complaints that HardingThomas polarized the school racially and criticized staff were made public.

Harding-Thomas said he was targeted because he stood up for students who were allegedly targets of racial discrimination.

Staff members still have the option of filing an official harassment complaint against Harding-Thomas.

“That has been a topic of discussion,” said Associate Superintendent Cynthia Lambarth.

Trying to resolve the dispute informally, the district invited Warren Burton and Darcy Lees from the Office on Equity Education in the state superintendent’s office to evaluate the situation and make recommendations.

Spokane School District officials called the report balanced and promised to heed its recommendations.

“Our goal is to move beyond these incidents and begin dealing with the issues,” said Superintendent Gary Livingston. “To do this we must all work together: school, parents and the community at large.”

Harding-Thomas called the recommendations biased because the district did not allow the report’s authors to see his job evaluations.

“This is not a full report,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned a high school person could have done it.”

Teachers who complained about Harding-Thomas say the report does not address all their concerns.

“The recommendations do not include the need for Lionel HardingThomas to demonstrate and/or receive training in interpersonal communications skills, or training in multicultural education beyond the African-American experience,” said a statement sent by fax from the school to the news media.

The statement was signed by teachers Helen Bannerman and Danelle Elder. Elder said it represents the opinion of the majority of the Chase faculty.

Principal Rodger Lake said he has started “a process of more-formalized guidance” with Harding-Thomas.

“One of the things he’s asked for is direction in writing and that’s fine.”

Responding to the report’s reference to “paralysis” of school administrators, Lake said:

“We were looking for direction on how to deal with this issue. The problem is this isn’t the kind of thing anybody had faced before, and that’s the staff, the administration and the school district. We didn’t have an answer. We were waiting for direction.”

Meanwhile, the Rev. Lonnie Mitchell, president of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship Union, a group of African-American pastors, called for a dialogue between the school district and blacks.

“If there’s an uproar, let’s get to the bottom of it and the only way is to sit down with some serious dialogue,” Mitchell said.

The state report includes these recommendations:

Students should “communicate courteously with each other and with adults … perform academically to realize individual potential … communicate any concern to an appropriate school staff member.”

Staff should “communicate openly with each other and with school administration … inform all students of school standards … implement standards fairly and consistently … be open to new ideas on how to address issues of race, gender and socio-economic status.”

School administrators should “make certain the same levels of expectations are held for all adults and students in the building … use the evaluation process for more effective monitoring of performance … develop information/materials to increase diversified community involvement in all aspects of the school.”

Lionel Harding-Thomas should “insist on guidance and direction from your supervisor … be more accepting of immediate feedback when communicating with other staff … serve as a resource to staff especially in regard to sensitive issues related to ethnic, gender and socioeconomic issues.”

Spokane School District should “provide continuing staff development opportunities related to equitable education for all school staff … assist in identifying and developing opportunities for constructive initiatives in human rights broadly across the city of Spokane … serve as a public advocate for all students and their parents, especially those disenfranchised.”

Parents and community members should “support the children but insist upon responsible and socially acceptable behavior … document any situation which you question … allow the school district to supervise their personnel.”

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