Petition: Address Racism and White Supremacy in North Thurston Public Schools

EDIT: Success! At the request of the authors of the petition, the petition has been temporarily suspended while they work with the North Thurston School Board, who has responded to all of you who signed the petition! Many thanks for elevating this issue and being catalysts for change!

If you would like to send your own email, please visit the North Thurston School District website for contact information.

This petition is a call to action to address racism and white supremacy in North Thurston Public Schools, Lacey, WA. 

In North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS), a growing group of current and former BIPOC and allied teachers, paraeducators, and staff who have experienced racial abuse from their employer, colleagues, and staff are taking action to hold their district accountable for upholding white supremacy. “We have found little to no support from NTPS leadership, our school board members, and our associations. This district has reinforced cycles of racial harm through its ‘passive progressivism’,” says one NTPS teacher.“There is a strongly worded equity resolution.  Equity teams abound.  Professional development opportunities are riddled with equity training.  Ultimately, the words and gestures are empty and meaningless because there is no accountability measure.” 

NTPS is in its emerging state of equity work. In October, 2020, the NTPS School Board adopted the Equity Resolution, a comprehensive plan to engage the district in equity work including creating a framework for K-12 Ethnic Studies, engaging in anti-racist professional development across the district. On paper, or via the NTPS website, it would seem that NTPS is an equitable district, but NTPS is moving at the pace of white privilege. Grandiose equity statements try to persuade the community that systematic racial issues do not exist in the district and that NTPS is sympathetic to the racism that the NTPS community faces.

  • North Thurston Public Schools is a compassionate community free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color, religion, national origin or home country, or other protected class.” (from an email sent 3/19/21 from Superintendent Deb Clemens regarding support for Asian American students and families). 
  • The NTPS mission statement regarding equity also states, “At NTPS we interrupt factors that perpetuate systemic inequities and/or practices that contribute to over and under-representation of any student group compared to peers. We confront the institutional bias that results in predictability of student success or lack thereof, including but not limited to race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, language and culture.”
  • NTPS states that they stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on their equity webpage: “The lives of Black, Indigenous and People of Color continue to be significantly impacted by racial abuse, racist policies and anti-black violence. Our district is committed to actively implementing antiracist policies and practices to eliminate the current racial disparities that exist in our district and community.” 

These statements are proclamations without an actively anti-racist practice demonstrated by ALL in NTPS. In practice, the district is checking boxes and hoping they can continue as “normal”. Unfortunately, “normal” means operating comfortably in white supremacy. 

Despite the statements of support, here are the lived experiences of teachers, paras, and staff working in NTPS: 

  • NTPS building administration told BIPOC staff and White allies to stop teaching the Social Justice standards and to wait until other staff “caught up.” 
  • A BIPOC educator was disproportionately interrogated by their principal and grade level team for teaching an asynchronous lesson that included farmworker activists, Dolores Huerta and César Chávez. This lesson was modeled after a district-approved ELA remote-learning coach resource, but this teacher received harassment for implementing the lesson. 
  • Books pertaining to the Civil Rights movement, and gay Civil Rights leader Harvey Milk, were reported missing from a NTPS elementary library. We reported this free-speech issue to the Director of Equity and no further investigation was completed. 
  • A BIPOC staff member was given a fabricated performance review, and was demoted from their position. They advocated for mediation with their principal and they were further retaliated against. 
  • A BIPOC counselor reported that when they were talking to someone at the NTPS district office about hiring more BIPOC staff and how positive it was to be a part of the hiring of more BIPOC staff, the person responded with, “Colored people are taking our jobs.” 
  • Two BIPOC staff from the same building were “moved” from their building by their administrator, so white friends of the administrator could stay in the building. 
  • A BIPOC educator was impacted by “mistakes” on seniority lists made by NTPS Human Resources that negatively affected their career, with no restitution or resolution. 
  • White ally educators teaching lessons that incorporated Social Justice standards were intimidated to stop teaching to the standards. Their names and lessons were shared on conservative groups’ social media, where members harassed them and their work. 
  • A White ally educator critiqued the inaction of their principal regarding equity. An equity committee meeting was arranged by their principal. At the meeting the White ally educator was bullied and harassed by the committee which included staff from every grade level, paraeducators, a school counselors, and their principal. 
  • When speaking to a white administrator about the lack of urgency and action for furthering equity being harmful to our BIPOC staff, students and community, the administrator responded by saying, “we can’t push those who aren’t ready to do this work too hard because that will just push good people away.”
  • A BIPOC staff was bullied and harassed by their White coworker in a classroom in front of students and other teachers. Administrators were notified of this and no action was taken. 
  • A BIPOC coaching staff was notified of a rumor regarding a student. The BIPOC woman coach was the only one interrogated regarding the issue, although other white coaching staff knew about the issue. BIPOC coaching staff was forced to resign from their position. The white staff currently remain in their positions.
  • BIPOC staff continue to be marginalized in their buildings for their advocacy, while the NTPS Director of Equity reports that in their position, they“hold no decision making power to make any changes.” 
  • For too many BIPOC staff, it is evident there is not a plan in place to retain or protect them. For too many of them, the district’s racist actions are directly pushing them out. BIPOC staff feel themselves being pushed out and further marginalized within their work teams, from their Supervisors and from District Leadership.

Student Experience:

  • In November 2020, NTPS Director of Student Achievement grouped White and Asian Students together in one line on an achievement graph while there was another line that indicated levels of achievement for students of color. This grouping of White students and Asian students together excluded Asian students from the category of students of color erasing their experiences and histories.
  • In June 2020, Black Lives Matter signage was removed from a number of schools by the Director of Facilities, Mike Dahl.  District officials acted to conceal evidence and fabricate details of what happened and who was involved.  They initially stated that it was the“maintenance team” that mistakenly took the signage down. The Black Student Union launched their own investigation to uncover the truth.  Through public records requests of emails and security footage, they were able to identify that Dahl was the sole individual to take the signage down. He stated in an email to the principal at one school that the decision to remove the signs was not unilateral. He received clearance to take the signage down from District Cabinet member, Monty Sabin.  NTPS School Board members, Superintendent Debra Clemens, and District leadership minimized the impact of Dahl’s act of anti-Black aggression and have not restored the damage they have caused to the Black community and allies.  Dahl continues to work at the district and has had multiple incidents in which he has harmed staff through his behavior. 
  • In March 2021, students participated in a Zoom event centering BIPOC Wellness and recruitment activities for the Black Student Unions (BSU) of North Thurston High School, River Ridge High Schools, and Timberline High Schools.  The meeting was Zoom-bombed by individuals from other school districts using racially targeted hate-speech.  When turning to the IT department for assistance, the attendant did not treat the matter with urgency or even care.  Advisors needed to do their own footwork to track down email evidence.  When calling the police department, they were told that the event did not constitute a crime and they cited 1st amendment rights of infiltrators when the hate speech was brought up. This type of racial insensitivity is prolific.
  • In April, 2021, an Asian student was physically assaulted at an elementary school by a peer who referenced COVID-19 in the attack. Other experiences of racial abuse were shared at an NTPS BSU meeting aimed at amplifying the voices and lived experiences of Asian students.  An Asian Student Association member recalled that the group received verbal harassment from other students when they first formed their association. Students described peers mocking them in school for speaking languages other than English. They described members of the community verbally abusing them for speaking another language in public. The district’s response to the rise in anti-Asian violence has been largely reactive, passive, and ineffective in supporting our Asian youth through the crisis.

Family Experience:

  • Translated school communication materials in the family’s home language are not regularly sent home. Bilingual and BIPOC staff continually translate materials for ELL families without proper compensation. Many ELL families have expressed that they are unaware or unable to access their child’s Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), report cards, letters home, permission slips, and access to remote learning due to NTPS’lack of readily available translated communication.
  • ELL families reported to a BIPOC educator that they felt left behind when our schools first went remote in Spring 2020. They shared that their previous teachers, who were mostly white, did not reach out to them with lessons or translated materials, nor did they check on their well being during the remote transition during the rise of COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many vulnerable ELL families entered the following school year with widened technology and academic gaps. 
  • A Nisqually parent reports being given a calendar with Pilgrims and Indians on it during elementary student conferences. When she complained to administrators, nothing was done. This same parent was gaslighted and tone policed by district administrators after questioning them on Since Time Immemorial practices. 
  • A parent of a student in the North Thurston Black Student Union reports that racist behavior is common at NTPS. According to one teacher, the parent reported that this was one of many racist experiences toward her daughter in the district dating back to elementary school.“Something has to happen to stop this, says the teacher. She reports that parents want “tangible action instead of empty words.”“[NTPS] is at a point where [they are] saying‘we’ are not racist,’ but where [they are] struggling is with actions of being anti-racist. Parents and students are able to see through the insincerity of these statements, and when they are not backed up by action, they are just empty words.” 

These experiences are a small fraction of the discriminating practices that are employed by NTPS. Staff have endured targeted aggressive behavior, discriminatory practices, fabricated performance evaluations, cyber bullying, domestic terrorist threats, harassment, retaliation, gaslighting, and permanent trauma from those who we are told are here to help us. In their efforts to create spaces where all students feel seen, heard, and validated, NTPS educators, families, and students are further marginalized and targeted.

The following individuals are some of those responsible for perpetuating white supremacy in NTPS:

  • Dr. Deb Clemens, Superintendent since 2016. Salary: $245,378. Has been largely silent around racism in NTPS. Has not defended the Equity Resolution to critics. Does not hold cabinet level staff and school leadership accountable for white supremacist actions.
  • Monty Sabin, Assistant Superintendent of Operations since 2015, Salary: $164,325. Has been unresponsive to allegations of Facilities Management removing Black Lives Matter signage and materials from school properties.
  • Mike Dahl, NTPS Facilities Director: since 2018, Salary $128,202. Removed authorized BLM materials from schools.
  • Troy Oliver, Assistant Superintendent of School Leadership since 2006, Salary: $164,325. Does not hold principals accountable for providing meaningful equity professional development.               
  • Courtney Shrieve, Executive Director of Public Relations since 2006, Salary: $138,720. Disseminates empty statements of district support of BLM and BIPOC communities.                               
  • Charlie Burleigh, Executive Director of Human Resources & Civility Officer since 2018, Salary: $159,193. He and Dawn Long have contributed to the creation of a hostile work environment for BIPOC staff.  The turnover rate for BIPOC staff has increased from approximately 11% in the 2017-2018 school year to 16% in the 2019-2020 school year whereas the turnover rate for White staff is maintained at 11% over those school years. Has gaslighted BIPOC staff when they have filed HR grievances.
  • Heather McCarthy, Mountain View Elementary Principal since 2015, Salary : $132,839. She has bullied, gaslit, threatened, and tone-policed BIPOC and allied staff for their equity and social justice work. There is evidence that she has repeatedly had a hand in pushing BIPOC staff out of Mountain View and replaced them with white staff whom she has personal ties to. She claims to be an ally for social change, but her actions do not support her claim. She controls the culture of the school where the implementation of social justice and equity moves at the pace of her white privilege and white fragility. 
  • The NTPS School Board for not not holding the Superintendent accountable; for not listening to the lived experiences of BIPOC students and families; and for being out of touch with the needs of their community.  They have engaged in tone-policing and have refused to acknowledge the concerns of BIPOC students in public meetings choosing to prioritize their own comfort. They have discriminated against a BIPOC staff member who appealed a wrongful termination decision in which they upheld the decision after only giving her 5 minutes of testimony. They have repeatedly silenced student voices, particularly those of BIPOC students, when they did not allow public comment from BSU members and some allies to be read aloud at a board meeting in April 2020.  They did not have the courage to select an outspoken, bi-racial, LGBTQ+, recent graduate and longtime advocate of student voice at NTPS to serve as an interim board member instead opting to appoint Dr. Jennifer Thomas who failed to address/strategically avoided addressing systemic failures at NTPS on issues like racial trauma and gender inequities.
  • NTPS School Board Members
    • District 1, Gretchen Maliska, Board President, since 2017 
    • District 2, Chuck Namit since 1993
    • District 3, Dr. Jennifer Thomas since 2021 
    • District 4, Graeme Sackrison, Vice President , since 2015 
    • District 5, Dave Newkirk since 2015  

This petition demands that North Thurston Public Schools take the following actions:

  • Establish and enforce policies and procedures that protect BIPOC staff, students, and caregivers from racial abuse;
  • Terminate racial abusers from their positions by end of the 2020-2021 school year;
  • Develop and use candidate questions aligned with equity metrics in hiring practices;
  • Ensure and enforce that the district goal to hire more diverse staff is data driven and shared publicly;
  • Ensure and enforce that district level staffing is as diverse as the population served;
  • Create clear flow charts for BIPOC staff that show whom to contact and what they can do when they experience racial abuse at all levels. With BIPOC staff, revise your civility policies and all other policies to ensure that racial abuse is addressed and that clear guidelines are written on what to do, where to find resources, and whom to rely on for support when racial abuse happens;
  • Expand District Equity Leadership. In addition to the Director of Equity and Languages, hire an Equity Director at the Cabinet level, an Equity Instructional Lead to assist the instructional coaches and administrators in learning how to lead Equity work, and hire an Equity Lead in Restorative Justice; 
  • Disaggregate staff Educational Effectiveness Survey’s (EES) and equity PD feedback to inform strategic planning and district policies towards creating safer spaces for BIPOC staff, students, and communities;
  • Require that hiring committees have BIPOC representation and that these appointees are adequately compensated;
  • Train all District Leaders and Supervisors extensively on the Equity Resolution and require they address and uphold its requirements in all staff meetings;
  • Prioritize hiring BIPOC members in District Leadership positions;
  • Ensure and enforce equitable representation on the NTPS school board; and
  • Remove and replace Superintendent Deb Clemens, Executive Director of Human Resources & Civility Officer, Charles Burleigh, and  Facilities Director, Mike Dahl with candidates who have a strong background in racial equity and have positive experiences and impacts working with diverse populations. 

Given the lived experience of  BIPOC staff, statements of“solidarity”that NTPS publishes are distractions from the truth. The evidenced truth is that BIPOC staff and White allies are victims of these empty statements and inaction. Superintendent Deb Clemens and North Thurston Public Schools have shown they are more concerned about their public image than actually working to interrupt the systemic inequities that currently exist in their institution. They do not confront the institutional bias in their schools, but perpetuate it. Please help disrupt the systemic racism and the hostile working environment that affects NTPS staff, students,  and the communities it serves. Sign the petition and send a message to Superintendent Deb Clemens, the NTPS school board, and  NTPS Cabinet Level Leadership as a call to action against racism and white supremacy in North Thurston Public Schools.


  1. I’m confused about where to “sign” the petition and also is there a template for letters to send to the people and groups listed at the end of the article?

    1. Hi Amanda. At the request of the authors of the petition, the petition has been temporarily suspended while they work with the North Thurston School Board, who has responded to all of you who signed the petition! Many thanks for elevating this issue and being catalysts for change!

      If you would like to send your own email, please visit the North Thurston School District website for contact information.

      1. I’m sorry I was not able to attend today but look forward to signing the petition. As a parent and Grandparent I support the Steplight family and others that have been affected by racism in their schools.

  2. I am the parent of a soon-to-be NTPS student. I would love to know more about how to support the efforts of this group. It’s really important to me that my kiddo be in a school that addresses white supremacy and racism.

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