Late last week, the Davis Joint Unified School District finally released four years of data on internal and external investigations. The data shed a limited amount of light on the process, but the entire process is fraught with problems.
We got a partial answer to some of our questions about external investigations. The district wrote, “When the district office receives a complaint concerning an employee, either the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and/or the Director of Student Services reviews the complaint. These administrators determine whether to investigate the matter internally or externally.”
We also now know that this determination is based on several criteria, including: the level of the complaint’s complexity; the availability and expertise of staff to conduct a timely and thorough investigation; the potential impact(s) on the employee and/or complainant; and potential litigation.
While we never got a clear answer from the district as to who decides who should investigate the complaint, from the public records request it appears that Eva Peek Fichtner’s firm has handled such matters over the last four years.
We also never got a clear answer in terms of whether there was a fail-safe in terms of the amount of time and money an investigation would cost, though it is believed that there is a level that would trigger review by superintendent.
Finally, we know from Board President Gina Daleiden that “the Board never sees most investigations.” She added, “We get involved when they reach us for appeal.”
In a public statement from February 20, Ms. Daleiden explained, “We would like to be clear about the Board’s role in this matter and the appeal process. The Board is not involved in a complaint, nor investigation of a complaint, unless an appeal is requested.”
But all of this leads to more questions than answers.
We learned, for example, that when former Volleyball Coach Leigh Whitmire Choate filed a complaint that her daughter was being bullied and harassed by Nancy Peterson, the district spent 48.55 hours with a total expenditure of $10,679.
Ms. Choate told the Vanguard that Alexander Sperry had spoken to both her and her daughter at the same time for less than an hour and had failed to speak with any of the other witnesses that she provided.
Based on that, the number of hours reported by the district baffled Ms. Choate, who told the Vanguard, “I am slightly confused as to what could have led to so many hours and such a high charge for my investigation when Alex Sperry spent around one hour total with me and my daughter and to my knowledge he did not speak to any of the people whose names I gave him.”
She clarified, “The investigation had nothing to do with coaching and had everything to do with how Nancy (Peterson) was behaving toward my teenage daughter (in my opinion bullying, harassing, intimidating).”
“As I had witnessed and others had too I finally decided to speak up for my daughter and the others she was treating this way in hopes that someone at the district level would ask her to stop,” Ms. Choate continued. “Sadly, that was not the case. I did however address how Nancy (Peterson) was treating Julie (Crawford), specifically, and that was disregarded by Mr. Sperry.”
This suggests that the district in the last four school years has spent more than a quarter million dollars on 11 investigations with almost no school board oversight over the expenditures, the hours billed, or even the outcomes.
The public has no way to question or scrutinize these reports which took a month to produce but, based on personnel laws, student privacy laws and attorney-client privilege, the public has no way to hold the district directly accountable.
As we noted on Sunday, the fact that “potential litigation” is one of the criteria for determining external investigation, the fact that the district is using the same law firm as their attorney, Eva Peek Fichtner, suggests that these external investigations are based less on the desire to seek the truth and more about litigation mitigation.
Finally, there is the due process concern. The Julie Crawford investigation triggered a 100 hour, $22,000 investigation as of February 18.
As we know, because the Petersons leaked the summary from Matt Best to the Davis Enterprise, the findings came back, ”more likely than not, Coach Crawford’s decision to cut [Vanguard redaction] Peterson from the varsity volleyball team was influenced, at least in part, by Coach Crawford’s feelings about Nancy Peterson” but also added “at the same time (the investigator) does not find that coach Crawford acted with ‘willful mal-intent’ to harm (the Petersons’ daughter). … Rather, through no fault of her own, (the daughter) simply became a casualty of the ongoing ‘volleyball drama’ involving coach Crawford and Nancy Peterson.”
At the same time, we know that Julie Crawford never had access to the full report from investigator Alexander Sperry. She went into the appeal hearing having never read the charges or findings against her.
As Board President Gina Daleiden explained on February 20 with an announcement out of closed session, “In an appeal, the Board acts in a quasi-judicial manner and must remain impartial.”
But the quasi-judicial process that Ms. Daleiden describes strangely does not include the right of the accused, in this case Julie Crawford, to see the charges against her so that she might mount a defense.
This demonstrates the lack of overall transparency in the process. The school district, from the standpoint of fairness, transparency and accountability, needs to change the way this process works.
While matters of this nature are necessarily withheld from the public realm, the school board acts on the public’s behalf and in the most real way, through the electoral process, is held accountable by the public.
This is again is another reason why the board appointing Nancy Peterson’s replacement becomes problematic. We again urge the board to appoint someone to fill the vacancy who agrees not to seek reelection.
—David M. Greenwald reporting