US GOVT: Tukwila school district employees victims of racism

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

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TUKWILA, Wash. - It's not a legal victory yet, but ten African-American educators in the Tukwila School District are celebrating because the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that they were victims of racism by former Superintendent Ethelda Burke, who's also African-American. Friday's EEOC determinations pave the way for lawsuits that could cost the district – one of the most diverse school districts in the country --- millions of dollars.

Burke resigned in July of 2012. District Athletic Director JD Hill was one of the first employees who came forward. He told KIRO 7 reporter Amy Clancy that Burke "called me J-Darkie." Hill also said that, when he hired four African-American bus drivers in his former job as transportation director, Burke said he "was making the district look like a ghetto."

Sandra Goins, a teacher at Shoalwater Middle School, said she objected to "being called a slave" by Burke.

The Tukwila School District investigated last year and cleared Burke of any wrongdoing. But the ten employees hired lawyers and filed complaints with the US EEOC which on Friday found the employees were subjected "to an illegal, hostile work environment consisting of race and color harassment."

Marva Harris, the security officer at Shoalwater, said she was elated when her attorney, Joan Mell, called her with the news. "I was like, yes! The truth came out, and you know, that's all I wanted."

Sandra Goins made clear that the fact that Burke is also African American doesn't mean racism didn't happen. "Because she's the same color, you know, it was like oh no! It's not really racism. It's not really discrimination, " Goins told Clancy. But, she added, it is.

Friday's declarations direct both sides come to some sort of settlement, but Jimmie Goode's lawyer Richard Wooster isn't hopeful: "The school board that we currently have in Tukwila has refused to acknowledge that there's been any problem whatsoever, and I think that they will continue to hold that position."

Meanwhile the ten employees say even though Burke is out, there is still racism at the district and changes still need to be made. "There is racism," former Foster High School assistant principal Daryl Wright told Clancy. Wright is now a teacher at Foster, and believes his demotion was retaliation for speaking out. "Let's get some people in these roles that understand how to be culturally responsive. Let's get some people in these positions that have some skills at working with diverse populations. And let's do what's best for kids."

Clancy called Tukwila School District spokeswoman Sara Niegowski multiple times seeking comment about Friday's EEOC decision, but she did not return Clancy's calls. Clancy also called Ethelda Burke – who also did not call back.