Kent School Board approves teacher’s resignation after racist tweets

‘We deplore and denounce the actions of this employee’

The Kent School Board on Jan. 30 accepted the resignation of a Panther Lake Elementary School physical education teacher. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

The Kent School Board on Jan. 30 accepted the resignation of a Panther Lake Elementary School physical education teacher. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

A Kent School District elementary teacher has resigned after a KUOW public radio report that described racist, bigoted tweets posted by the employee.

The Kent School Board, at a special meeting on Thursday night to deal with the matter, accepted the resignation of Rafaela Kayryakoff in a 3-1 vote, according to a district news release on Friday.

“We the Kent School District want the community to know we deplore and denounce the actions of this employee,” Board President Leslie Hamada said at the meeting. “We are working hard to make sure if this ever occurs again, and we hope it never does, our response will be swift and immediate.”

The board voted 3-1 to approve the resignation. Hamada, Maya Vengadasalam and Leah Bowen voted yes. Michele Bettinger had the only no vote. Vice President Denise Daniels had an excused absence from the meeting because of a prior commitment.

Bettinger said prior to the vote that she had concerns about the issue because at a special meeting there is no opportunity for residents to comment. On her Facebook page, she posted the following statement about her vote against approval of the resignation.

“I was appalled at what I read in the article,” Bettinger said. “I believe in my sacred responsibility to keep all children safe. I voted no (Thursday) because I had a concern that the public wasn’t being heard and because I felt forced and rushed to vote without understanding all options that would first and foremost keep students safe and then, be responsible stewards of district resources.”

Kayryakoff was reassigned for the 2019-2020 school year to be a Panther Lake Elementary physical education teacher after a district investigation in 2018-2019 found no just cause for termination during her work as a first-grade teacher at Meridian Elementary, according to the district. On Jan. 23, KUOW published an article regarding the spring 2019 investigation and subsequent reassignment.

“It is important to remember, especially in this particular matter, whether or not we agree with someone’s personal opinions or views, and regardless of our social media guidelines, equity training, and electronic resource policy and procedures in place for staff, we cannot infringe on an employee’s First Amendment rights,” said Melissa Laramie, director of Communications and Public Affairs, in the news release. “The tweets brought to the attention of the principal, and then to human resources, were posted on the staff member’s personal time and personal account, and the investigation did not produce any evidence linking those tweets to her actions in the workplace. We followed policy, procedure and the law.”

The resignation date for Kayryakoff is Aug. 21, which Laramie explained in an email to the Kent Reporter.

“She included this date on her resignation letter because she has a contract with the district for the 2019-2020 school year,” Laramie said. “Adverse changes to a certificated teacher’s contract status are outlined in RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 28A.405.310 and imply their rights to compensation while under contract.”

Although her resignation date is in August, Kayryakoff no longer will work for the district. She had been reassigned Jan. 27 to a non-school based position.

“Due to the impact of Ms. Kayryakoff’s presence on the learning community, she is on leave through the remainder of her contract,” Laramie said.

Under the headline of, “Kent teacher tweeted racist, bigoted messages and was allowed to stay in the district,” KUOW said a suspicious parent googled Kayryakoff’s name last spring when she taught first grade at Meridian Elementary.

The teacher’s Twitter account included statements about Mexicans, Jews, and Mormons. Kayryakoff admitted to writing many of the tweets, but did not mean for them to be derogatory, according to notes from a school district investigation quoted in the article.

According to the article, one of Kayryakoff’s tweets called Mexicans one of the “ridiculous immature vile cruel and extremely evil cultures that need to be genocided!” Another tweet read “Jews dont belong in Christian countries what do they not understand?”

A day after the KUOW report, Superintendent Calvin Watts posted the following message on the school district’s website:

“On January 23 a local media outlet published an article regarding personnel matters involving one of our staff members. We have heard the concerns of the Panther Lake and Kent School District community.

While there are no new employee investigations beyond what has been shared by the media, a decision has been reached (Jan. 23) seeking to address the impact of the information shared in the article on our school community. Rafaela Kayryakoff will be reassigned to a non-school based position beginning Jan. 27.

This decision was made with the care and concern of all students, families, and staff of the Panther Lake community in mind. We have arranged for a substitute PE teacher for the remainder of the school year. I can assure you that Principal (Pamela) Pogson, Assistant Principal (Erica) Aulava and staff will take every step necessary to ensure a smooth transition over the upcoming days for our students and Panther Lake community. Our shared goal is for students to continue learning with as little interruption as possible.

In Kent School District we take any matter of concern voiced by students, families, and staff seriously. We are committed to successfully preparing all students for their futures. We are also committed to creating an environment where all students, families, staff, and community members know they are safe, respected and valued for their diverse life experiences, language, culture, values and beliefs. And we will continue to identify and correct practices and policies that perpetuate achievement and opportunity gaps as well as institutional bias.

Finally, I remind all students, staff, and family that all instances of suspected harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying should be reported to your school’s principal or assistant principal in any of the following ways: in person, over the phone or by email. You may also complete the official HIB Report Form, available on our website and submit it to the school’s main office.”

The Kent Education Association (KEA) teacher’s union on Thursday published a statement on its Facebook page, “No Room for Racism in Our Schools” reaffirming its commitment to equality.

“KEA has been working closely with us throughout this process,” Watts said in the news release. “I appreciate their commitment to our district’s core values and continued equity work, for remaining focused on our students, and for understanding the difficult and necessary work that must be done to reflect on our explicit and implicit biases. I believe our entire community better understands how these biases impact and influence our learning and working environments. In Kent School District we are committed to leading with equity. We will continuously improve our systems while engaging with our families and community. Our focus remains on educating our students so they will be ready to excel in college, careers and in life. Our children deserve nothing less.”

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