May 24, 2005
Ahwatukee Foothills parents who requested an emergency public meeting to discuss "abuse and discrimination" against black students at Desert Vista High School will have to wait.
Instead of a public meeting, the Tempe Union High School District governing board will meet today behind closed doors with attorneys and discuss related complaints filed in April against Desert Vista principal Joe McDonald by two black employees: Assistant principal Roseyn Hood and security officer Loretta Avent.
McDonald is also black.
"Instead of helping the children, everybody is worried about protecting the adults," said Avent, who obtained an injunction against McDonald in Chandler Justice Court. She and Hood have also filed federal complaints of harassment against McDonald with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Phoenix.
Since those complaints, three black parents of current and former Desert Vista students requested a chance to share their concerns in a public meeting they hoped would be the first step in an independent investigation. They asked the board to organize the meeting before the last day of school Wednesday, but board president Mary Lou Taylor said that will not be possible.
"We are in the process of information gathering and fact-finding," she said. "We can’t just be rushed into this kind of thing."
Taylor said any parents with concerns about the treatment of their children at Desert Vista can speak at 5:30 p.m. today during a regular meeting following the closed-door session at 500 W. Guadalupe Road, Tempe. But the board will not be able to respond to those comments because the topic does not appear on the posted agenda.
"Those parents are welcome to come (tonight) and speak if they want to," Taylor said. "And we will listen."
The parents’ complaints, which they circulated last week in an open letter, include allegations of exploiting black student-athletes at Desert Vista and mishandling discipline of black students.
Their complaints came two weeks after Gila River Indian Community students came forward with their parents and complained about their treatment at Desert Vista. Suzanne Graves, a teacher in the Kyrene Elementary School District, said she met with the black parents on Sunday.
"Because they have raised these concerns with the school district, these women are being harassed within their own community," Graves said. "These women are going out on a limb, and they were in tears."
McDonald has declined to discuss any of the allegations, and Tempe Union spokeswoman Nicole Greason said the district cannot comment "because of the personnel interest in this case."
Desert Vista has faced allegations involving the treatment of black students dating back at least four years.
The Tribune reported one case in 2004 of a black student-athlete who played in the state championship basketball game for Desert Vista despite missing 247 classes in the first three quarters of the school year.
In 2001, former Desert Vista assistant principal Jane Jones accused McDonald of exploiting black students in order to produce competitive athletic teams. The year after she complained, McDonald gave Jones the first negative evaluation of her career.
The governing board — which included current members Michelle Helm and Mary Frances Lewis — gave Jones three minutes to defend herself in a 2002 public meeting and then fired her on McDonald’s recommendation for not being a "team player."
Jones filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court in 2003, and a jury trial is pending.