SEATTLE — Two Seattle School Board members violated a board policy against harassing, intimidating and bullying staff members last year when they were working on an anti-racism policy with two Black district employees, an outside investigation has found.
The events that took place between the Seattle Public Schools employees and board members Chandra Hampson and Zachary DeWolf happened in August and September 2020 during meetings and discussions about a draft of the district’s anti-racism policy. The School Board has not yet voted on the policy.
The two district employees, both of whom are women still working for Seattle Schools, “alleged an orchestrated campaign of harassment, intimidation, bullying based on race and gender in response to their work” on the anti-racism policy, according to the investigation by the MFR Law Group PLLC, a law firm focused on employment law and human resource services in the Pacific Northwest.
MFR submitted the report to Seattle Schools in early August. The employees’ names were redacted.
Although the report didn’t find “clear evidence” that Hampson and DeWolf discriminated against the two staffers because of their race or gender, it did conclude that both board members violated board policy 5207, which prohibits harassment, intimidation and bullying.
During a board meeting Sept. 9, the board voted to take action based on the findings of the investigation.
Hampson and DeWolf were required to review the policy, according to the motion passed by board members, and the district was to provide harassment, intimidation and bullying training to all new board members “as needed.”
The motion also waived the need to post the report on the district’s website, which typically needs to happen at least three days before public meetings. The report was never posted to the Seattle Schools website.
The two women who made allegations against Hampson and DeWolf wrote a letter to the board on Sept. 18, 2020 — almost a year earlier — detailing their experiences, board member Lisa Rivera-Smith said during the meeting.
“And in that letter I heard from two brilliant Black women that worked within our district,” Rivera-Smith said. “A district that I know ardently strives to be a safe, welcoming and anti-racist institution. And I heard them speak of treatment that they did not just want us as their leaders to be aware of but to also act upon.”
Hampson declined to comment. She was elected in 2019 to represent District 3, which encompasses Northeast Seattle, including Sand Point, View Ridge and Bryant.
DeWolf did not respond to requests for comment. DeWolf’s last day in office was Wednesday; he was elected in 2017 and did not run for a second term. DeWolf has represented District 5, which includes Capitol Hill, downtown and the Central District.
In an emailed statement, the district said it’s not able to comment on personnel matters but that “Seattle Public Schools is committed to nondiscrimination in all our educational, employment and staff endeavors.”
“We firmly believe this commitment to anti-racism increases student success,” the statement continued. “SPS upholds all board policies and superintendent procedures and thoroughly investigates workplace complaints.”
A conversation that “spiraled out of control”
Tensions began to mount beginning in July 2020 between Hampson, DeWolf and district staffers. In a series of emails, DeWolf and Hampson accused staffers of inaccuracies in district meeting minutes and claimed the district staffers didn’t do the work they said they did, the report said.
There was also confusion among board members and staff about the timeline of the anti-racist policy, the emails show. Board members were under pressure to bring the resolution to the board quickly because many other board policies that were in the works hinged on this document, and district staff was pushing back on the urgency.
An accumulation of these disagreements and misunderstandings, according to the emails, led to a group phone call and meeting Aug. 28, 2020. That meeting was the focus of the investigation and what triggered the accusations against Hampson and DeWolf.
As soon as the call began, DeWolf raised his voice at the two women who made the allegations and accused both of them of being dishonest about their collaboration on the anti-racist policy, according to the report. He also said that both of the women were not qualified to continue working on the policy.
The report noted that “it seemed [DeWolf] felt the need to put them in their place.” One of the accusers “tried to raise that there must have been a misunderstanding, but DeWolf was relentless in his negative admonishing and chastising tone, which set the stage for a terrible conversation.”
Hampson “berated” staffers, the investigation said, and the conversation became “very heated” and “spiraled out of control.”
One of the accusers tried to tell Hampson and DeWolf twice they were disrespecting her, the report said.
The second instance that was investigated was an executive committee meeting on Sept. 16, 2020, according to the report. At least one of the employees was supposed to present a 10-minute update on the anti-racist policy.
However, DeWolf cut her off before the 10 minutes were up, telling her twice to wrap up her comments, the report said. “This is my Executive Committee meeting,” the report said he told her. “I don’t want to rehash our own private conversations.”
The report found Hampson worked with DeWolf to “limit the impacts and remarks” of the district employee.
According to the investigation, Hampson and DeWolf both denied engaging in “anti-Black racism” or treating the two district staffers any differently from other employees. DeWolf “totally disagreed” with the allegations and “described himself as conflict averse and being careful in this situation.”
Hampson did acknowledge the group phone call was “terrible,” the report said, but denied violating harassment, intimidation and bullying board policies.