Report finds 'significant inaccuracies' in school board member's account of racial rant
This story has been updated.
A newly released report from Portland Public Schools gives weight to an employee's accusation from 2017 that school-board member Paul Anthony spread false statements about her when he told her supervisors she went on a profanity-laced rant against teachers during a racial-equity training.
Whether the inaccurate statements rise to the level of defamation and a hostile work environment, as the employee alleged, is still a matter of dispute. But the report is the second from PPS in recent weeks to rehash 2017 controversies. Last week, PPS released nearly 2,000 pages of documents concerning Yousef Awwad, the top finance official at the district who twice served as interim superintendent before the current superintendent fired him in November.
Like Awwad, a subject of the newly released report has threatened legal action against PPS.
Sidney Morgan, then the district's restorative justice coordinator, told PPS last year she intended to sue the district because Anthony had targeted and harassed her by spreading an inaccurate account of her actions at work. A Facebook group for parents then echoed Anthony's version of events, further damaging her, she said.
In a May 20, 2017 email to then-interim Superintendent Bob McKean, Anthony wrote that Morgan, who is African American, lashed out at white Beach Elementary School teachers five days earlier at a professional development session. The session had aimed to address conflict between some teachers and Beach administrators over the best approach to discipline students. Some teachers sought a punitive approach, while the then-principal preferred what's called restorative justice. (That approach favors consequences that repair harm and shuns traditional measures such as suspensions and expulsions.)
The conversation grew heated when the group addressed that fundamental disagreement, and at one point a teacher sought the opinion of the school's "climate" coach, who was a white man, the newly released report said. That prompted Morgan to point out that she had been sidelined in a conversation she had been asked to lead, the report said. What happened next became the topic for the investigation.
A white teacher told Anthony that Morgan had verbally abused the teachers, the report said. Anthony then repeated the teacher's claim to Morgan's supervisors.
"I have to become a b**ch-a** black woman to get your attention, because you all turn to the goddamn white man when he speaks," Anthony claimed Morgan said in the May 2017 email to her supervisors. "I have to come into sh**holes like this, and I have to look into sh**holes like this, and I'm raising three black kids, and I have to put them into sh**holes like this … You don't f***ing care about your f***ing students."
After Anthony sent his email to Morgan's supervisors and after receiving a separate complaint from a teacher, PPS launched an investigation of Morgan. They hired an outside lawyer from the Portland-based firm Dunn Carney.?
It concluded on May 16, 2018 that Anthony's email contained "significant inaccuracies."
The outside lawyer, Allyson Kruger, broke down Morgan's reported statements and found they were either appropriate given the context of the discussion or that Anthony's source misconstrued them.
Regarding the claim that Morgan had called herself a "b**ch-a** black woman," the investigator sided with Morgan. "I have concluded [Morgan] did not make this statement," she wrote. "Instead, the majority of witnesses described [Morgan] saying something like she had to be 'an angry black woman' to be heard."
The investigator added: "I was not able to conclude that [Morgan's] behavior fell below an acceptable standard of professionalism. However, as the professional presenter and facilitator on a topic involving race, which persists in being quite difficult for many, [Morgan] should have the skills to remain engaged in facilitating a dialogue that could include negative or even real (or perceived) racist comments by participants."
More than a month after concluding the investigation, PPS officials won't reveal what if any outcome exists. Anthony declined to answer questions. A spokeswoman for the district, Stephanie Cameron, wrote in an email that no one from PPS would discuss the report because it concerned a pending legal matter.
Morgan, through the attorney who filed the Aug. 8, 2017 legal notice alerting PPS to Morgan's planned lawsuit, also declined to comment. She resigned from PPS on June 28, effective Aug. 2, according to PPS spokesman Harry Esteve.
Anthony's authority on the school board came under scrutiny last year after a group of PPS principals called on him to resign, claiming that he had inappropriately meddled in school affairs by going around the superintendent, who is supposed to manage day-to-day operations of the district. The principals said Anthony's behavior demeaned school employees; he denied that.
As the Tribune reported in June 2017, school board members Amy Kohnstamm and then-board member Pam Knowles joined the call on Anthony to resign. He declined.
UPDATE (7/12/18): This version clarifies that Morgan was one subject of the report. It also adds that a second complaint other than Anthony's account was received.