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Kent Education Association files grievance against Mill Creek Middle School

The Kent Education Association (KEA) has filed a formal grievance against Mill Creek Middle school over dangerous disciplinary conditions at the school that have affected students and staff.

“At this point we felt we had to formalize our concerns because there’s got to be an optimal learning environment for students and staff,” said KEA president Cindy Prescott.

The complaint comes after several serious issues of fights and bullying have created disruptive conditions at the school. Both parties will have to find a way to balance out class stability with the districts overarching goal of giving students as many chances to succeed in school as possible.

Prescott said that the grievance has been filed at the school/building level, and that they will have seven days to respond to the allegations, at which time it will move up to the superintendent level. She noted that these are active school days, and so summer days won’t count.

Discussions will likely be picked up at the beginning of the next school year, but “that doesn’t mean we can’t have informal conversation about the issues going on there,” said Prescott.

The Kent School District said that it takes the complaint seriously but is limited in what it can discuss about legal matters.

“The district takes these issues seriously, just as it takes student and parent complaints seriously,” said district spokesman Chris Loftis. “The district will be following the contractual grievance process to address KEA’s concerns. In accordance with the grievance process set forth in KEA’s contract, the district treats all matters pertaining to specific grievances as confidential, in order to support the parties in their collaborative efforts to resolve these issues.”

According to the grievance statement, Mill Creek administrators have failed to address the issues of student discipline, which it says are “widely known to be out of hand. Students engage in violent behavior toward one another on campus and en route between school and home.”

In addition, the grievance states that administrators have discouraged teachers from filing disciplinary reports at the school, and forcing them to keep disruptive students in their classrooms despite the need for out of class help.

The board also filed a second grievance on June 6 against Mill Creek, which alleges that Principal Sherilyn Ulland cancelled use of the in-school suspension room, also known as the “focus room” for the day. This prevented teachers from sending disruptive students out.

According to the report, with the focus room closed teachers only options for disruptive students was to either send them home or let them remain in the class.

The grievances come in the wake of two administrators, Martha Shefveland and Lysander Collins being reassigned on June 11 to Panther Lake Elementary and Meridian Elementary, respectively. School board president Debbie Strauss denied that their transfers were related to the grievance. The KEA conducted a study on leadership ability at Mill Creek and scored both Shefveland and Ulland poorly, while Collins received higher marks. The district said that the transfers were a natural part of the administrative process.

The transfers, said Loftis, were “part of the way a district survives and thrives, and to make sure that you’re putting particular talents and applying them to particular needs.”

“In one case you’ve got another high needs school (Panther Lake) that lost an assistant principal to a principalship outside of the district, and a need for an additional assistant principal at one of our growing elementary schools (Meridian Elementary).“

The two administrators will be replaced by Regina Hauptmann and David Jones. Hauptman holds masters degrees in school administration, linguistics, and education. She most recently worked as the principal of Federal Way’s International Academy and the dean of students for the Truman Career Academy in Federal Way.

The district doesn’t believe that the grievance reflects negatively on the district, and is simply recognition of an issue and a chance to work through the issue.

“Having a good working environment for our staff as well as our students is a high priority for the district,” said Strauss in a recent phone interview. “The grievance process is a way to deal with those organizational challenges.”

Because of the size of the two organizations, grievance processes help them deal with large issues in a streamlined way.

“There’s gotta be a way for those large groups to interact in a way that is meaningful and constructive,” Loftis said, “while it’s a negative situation we look at it as a net positive.”

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