Monday, October 25, 2021

Reviewing the Interviews from the HIB Investigation Report - Part 1, Manal Al-ansi

 The MFR Law Group interviewed 20 people for their investigation report.  I had requested only the principals' interviews - Keisha Scarlett, Manal Al-ansi, Chandra Hampson and Zachary DeWolf. Because of my reading of these interviews, I now have requested more of them. The only two directors not interviewed were Erin Dury and Leslie Harris. That seems odd to me especially for Harris who has been in her position a long time.

I am pondering how to provide this information, some of which is stunning, some of which is disturbing and some of which borders on a naïveté that I would not expect from adults who have been in the workplace for a long time. I will try not to repeat information from the report itself but I may need to in order to provide context.

What I also find fascinating is that MFR must have asked each person (at least the principal players) for some background on themselves. That some of them were so liberal with their backgrounds seems odd to me but it certainly provides a larger picture of each person. 

I also want to note - again - that this documentation from MFR is somewhat sloppy. They get the names of employment positions wrong, dates of service wrong and they use no quote marks so it's hard to know if what is printed is exactly what was stated. 

Also, the power struggle over ownership of the creation of Policy 0040, an anti-racism policy, seems to be core to the problems that followed. As well, this Board created a situation over the creation of a policy -which is Board work - that left staff in a bad place when Hampson and DeWolf thought it was being done poorly. The weaponizing of SCPTSA that comes out in these interviews - and that's the right word - is deeply troubling. 

We'll start with Manal Al-ansi, the head of DREA, the Department of Race Equity Advancement in Part 1.

- We learn that Al-ansi had been invited to apply for a job with the City but did not get it. However, "numerous people who worked at SPS participated on her interview panel" so when she applied for her current job "she felt as if they knew she was consistent and authentic." That phrasing is certainly interesting. And how could there be multiple SPS people on an interview panel for a City job? Maybe in the Pre-K or education area?

- She says that "SPS's (sic) systems need to move toward a restorative path." There's some irony to that because at this point, nothing has been done to heal or restore trust after this particular episode. She and Scarlett seem to believe that Board members say one thing about restorative justice practices in public but then in this case, wanted to create a record to disprove the accusations that Scarlett and Al-ansi made. 

Neither woman wanted the issue to be investigated as HIB.

- Al-ansi says she and Scarlett were trying to prove "anti-Blackness." And here's where the Board and staff run into another buzzsaw. Everyone has their own experiences to bring to the table but it seems like for SPS, that this is part of doing work at SPS. Al-ansi and Scarlett talk a lot about "white-centric norms" and that people of color are held to higher expectations. 

BIPOC leaders understand that if they deviate from norms, people from dominant cultures will use different tactics to get BIPOC leaders back in alignment. 

- She also thought that both the Board members had good names they wanted to protect but felt she and Scarlett had good reputations to protect as well.  Al-ansi thought she might even be fired because of the investigation.

- She, like Keisha Scarlett, really did seem to believe that "naming the behavior" of DeWolf and Hampson would "challenge the Board to change it, and transition to healing and restoration." This is one example, I believe, of naive thinking. That letter of complaint was fairly incendiary and I'm not sure how it could be construed otherwise. I'm not sure that any member of the Board would have taken it as "a note" on the Board's desk. 

- There is a paragraph in her interview that really gets to the crux of their complaint:

Beginning this summer (summer of 2020) until present day, their work has been met from the executive committee with expressed levels of disappointment, increased criticisms, questioning of their credentials and process they chose to use to advance Policy 0040, and interference from the members of the Board on the work they advanced.

The report says mediation was tried but not how. The above complaints can't be new to any HR professional and I think could be worked out internally. 

- She makes accusations about an expectation about how she and Scarlett needed to be "submissive" to the executive committee. She may have meant DeWolf and Hampson's version of how Policy 0040 came to be created may not have aligned with the work that Al-ansi and Scarlett did. She also talks about DeWolf having "broke protocol" in the meeting. I'm not quite sure what she means there but there is evidence that he did try to control every single speaker at the meeting. However, Al-ansi admits she wanted to speak out about how they were being treated and DeWolf did not want to allow that. (More on this during the DeWolf interview.)

What is jarring is how she saw his behavior as "suppressing" and "behaving in an anti-Black manner" and therefore she wanted her experience in the public record. I would say that was not an appropriate time and place to do that; meeting with HR would have been. And, by doing so, she certainly was not "putting a note on the Board's desk"; she was trying to put something in public minutes. She called his behavior "bizarre" and so traumatizing that she had trouble sleeping. 

She continues on to say that Hampson and DeWolf were "gaslighting" them. She then said:

"In the past, if White men dropped the ball around certain initiatives, they were not dragged before the Board and crucified in the same way" they had been. 

- Both Scarlett and Al-ansi claim that other work colleagues told them that they were seeing behavior that they didn't understand. 

She also makes this claim:

Al-ansi believes if she were to say what was going on, people would tell her she is exaggerating or pulling the race card but, in retrospect, she has confidence in her experience and believes that the treatment of her and Scarlett has been a huge power play to position the SCPTSA in a more powerful way. (bold mine)

After reading these interviews, I would concur. More on this when we get to Hampson's interview.

- Al-ansi believes that both directors have political motivations. 

- In the incident of the phone call where DeWolf was at the airport to catch a plane and then Hampson took over the call that included Scarlett, Al-ansi and at least one other staffer, she explains:

The stated reason for the meeting from DeWolf, who had reached out to one of the two was to mend fences and avoid drama.

It would interesting to see the email setting up this meeting. 

He (DeWolf) accused them of not showing accountability or responsibility and not demonstrating that they truly value race equity or community in the roles they serve.

It is certainly one thing to believe that these women were not being accountable in their work but the person to go to was the Superintendent. (I have requested that interview.) But to say to these Black women that they didn't value race equity was almost a slap in the face (if that was indeed said).

- She also states that:

There has been an ongoing pattern and coordination between DeWolf and Hampson of last-minute changes, interruptions and shuffles. 

I have seen this at Board meetings. For example, at the last Board meeting, the part before public comment got done at 4:30 pm with public comment to come at 5:00 pm. (The Board always waits until 5 pm because speakers on counting on that time.) So Hampson was allowing Board comments and somehow seemed to forget and public comment didn't start until 5:15 pm and that's because Director Lisa Rivera Smith reminded her.  

- The plot thickens.

In the last week of June, Hampson called either Scarlett or Al-ansi directly on the phone to tell her what to do. Hampson reached to let her know that she was close with Scarlett's predecessor, Brent Jones. It appeared as though Hampson was reaching out to tell her about the work she did with Jones in the past, that they were tight and worked wonderfully together. Hampson shared examples of many things that she has been in partnership with Jones, in the past, many of which did not ever have any follow-through.  Hampson instructed Scarlett that they should use the opportunity that they have in working together to complete the vision that Jones and Hampson had set out. (bold mine)

So Jones and Hampson were close before he left SPS? Interesting and that could be very much why he got chosen to come in as interim superintendent. (Even as the Board proceeds with their superintendent search, my Spidey sense tells me they may stick with Jones.) As well, while I like Jones personally, I was always confused why, when he would give a report at a committee meeting, it was verbal and never on paper. 

- Al-ansi says that Scarlett said Hampson had been making comments to third parties about their work. She claims Hampson said their work was not "community-centric" which was odd because that is what Scarlett and Al-ansi thought about what Hampson was doing and they had said it first. 

- Hampson oversteps.

When Scarlett learned that Hampson had reached out to Al-ansi directly, she did intervene. Scarlett told Hampson this was inappropriate behavior and asked her to please not connect with staff that report directly to Scarlett. 

This is an absolute no-no and a case of trying to micromanage. Even if staff is working on a project with a director, the director is NOT their manager.

- Al-ansi said that she heard of remarks Hampson was making about her to third parties but declined to name people as this was "not a privileged investigation." 

- The final straw was the September 16, 2020 executive committee meeting. 

DeWolf stated that the SCPTSA has been leading the crafting of the policy so far and was stepping in to support SPS staff in its final phase. 

Al-ansi says this is just not true and either she or Scarlett stopped him to correct the record

"...that SPS  staff has been leading the process and that SCPTSA had, in the last three weeks, joined. Al-ansi felt as if DeWolf was using his public record and language to rewrite the history of the policy and that he was doing it very strategically."

I believe DeWolf sincerely cares about students but I also think he does his work with on eye in the mirror.  Ditto for Director Brandon Hersey. 

- She gave this evidence in her interview about why she was so concerned with the community engagement.

The SCPTSA conducted 12 rounds of engagement within a 1-month period, which is not a best practice for community engagement. There is no way to actually analyze data with that quick a turnaround. Al-ansi believes she has given the SCPTSA a lot of grace, but they are not in alignment with culturally responsive or inclusive community engagement practices. While the same Board members were criticizing SPS staff for doing too much community engagement, they had no criticism when the SCPTSA crammed 12 sessions in a 1-month period. 

She is extremely confident in the community engagement strategies and tactics that she has employed. Al-ansi has been using culturally inclusive and responsive community engagement practices. Black people are not a monolith, and she cannot just call six different Black parents from this modern-day, central district and ask them how teens feel safe in Rainier Beach. Community engagement requires multiple rounds of engagement listening sessions for accuracy. She does not want to lean on institutional norms of calling on Black people who are already within close proximity to the institution.  (bold mine)

She went on:

Hampson, Scarlett and Al-ansi used the word "community " synonymously with the SCPTSA. One of them once said "You can't use 'community' and 'SCPTSA' synonymously, because SCPTSA is an organization." 

When Scarlett and Al-ansi use the word "community" they mean students, families, and different cross sections. They may be wealthy or not, employed or unemployed, and people engaged with the school or not, and SPS will look at cross sections of people who speak English as a second language, or native speakers. They would also look at different regions of Seattle; South community district, the north end, Lake City, Roosevelt, and people who used to live in this community/district when it was a predominantly Black neighborhood. They would need to engage with students living in all of these areas to understand what they need to feel safe." (bold mine)

Bravo! And, as we will see from Hampson's interview, this is NOT her viewpoint at all. 

She goes on:

Hampson's version of community engagement is to go back to that SCPTSA to get a community member or someone who does facilitation from the Black and Brown communities to facilitate a discussion. Their strategies are to invite people from their own organization or open their conversations up to people who are already affiliated with their organization. It is unclear whether the SCPTSAmembers have compiled data from their community engagement session, but if they have, SPS staff has never seen it, and there is no evidence that SCPTSA is using it to inform their policy. Al-ansi is unclear if anyone conducting the SCPTSA community engagement strategies know how to compile data in a meaningful way and then move it into the policy.

The SCPTSA is supported by the highest level of authority at SPS. 

Al-ansi had started the requested community engagement at they end of her first month at SPS. There was a 3-month hiatus when COVID hit. Al-ansi is firm in her belief that cramming multiple community engagement in a 1-month span was not the way to do it. 

SPS presented a timeline and the Board rejected the timeline and stated that they were not behaving with enough of a sense of urgency and needed to stop asking for extensions. 

Because of this, the Board assigned the process to be taken over by the SCPTSA, and the SCPTSA submitted the exact same timeline. Both Scarlett and Al-ansi noticed that they submitted the same timeline and, pointing this out, said, "It looks like you don't have to take it over after all, because the the stated reason for taking it over was our proposed timeline, so let's just move forward in partnership." 

DeWolf declined this tactic and said, "No, Hampson is taking it from here." 

Sure enough the SCPTSA came to the Board at the November 9th Board meeting and asked for an extension because "there was too much work to cram into a short period of time in January or February." And the Board was happy to give them the extension.

- It appears Al-ansi felt this issue was personal because she notes that other SPS staff are given time for presentations and not yelled over at Board meetings, Work Sessions and committee meetings. 


Sunlight Needed said...

Thanks for this write=up.

It appears that the SCPTSA has acted to promote Chandra Hampson's agenda without involvement from greater community. Glad these tactics have been exposed.

Anonymous said...

It's time to take back the SCPTSA.

For the last five years (at least) it has been an adjunct to SPS leadership, and has become a sort of company union designed to disseminate district talking points while preventing parents from having any actual input over district operations.

SCPTSA leaders are groomed to become board members and part of that grooming involves taking the SPS line on everything and presenting a roadblock to parents who want change.

Every PTA in the city should rise up and replace the current, unrepresentative, out of touch SCPTSA leadership.

Change Now