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Salt Lake City School Board releases letter promising to rebuild trust

The Salt Lake City School District is being encouraged to get kids back into class, although the school board is delaying a decision. (PHOTO: KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — In a letter to the community, five members of the Salt Lake City School Board (SLCSB) said it’s working to rebuild trust following allegations of misconduct among Board members. 

Earlier in October, a Salt Lake School District parent submitted a public records request to obtain texts and emails from members of the SLCSB. Upon the granted request, the parent, Raina Williams, discovered vulgar messages between certain members of the Board.  

Williams questioned if the communication violated open meeting rules posted on the district’s website. She also called for the resignation of several Board members. 

The exposed messages caused quite a stir for the SLCSB, which prompted the school board to issue an apology letter to the district community Wednesday. 

“We would like to apologize to those individuals who were disparaged or embarrassed by what was written in correspondence between Board members,” wrote the board. “We are deeply sorry for breaking your trust and for causing hurt to constituents about whom we care deeply.” 

The letter said that concern expressed by the community gave them the opportunity to step back and reflect on how they’re representing students and parents. 

“You and our students deserve better,” the Board said. “This is not who we want to be as a Board; it does not represent the behavior we want to model for our community, and especially for our students.” 

SLCSB commits to doing better moving forward

As a first step, the Board says they will implement training with its members to begin rebuilding community trust.

“When you do breach community trust and hurt people’s feelings, you should say sorry,” explained Board President, Melissa Ford to KSL NewsRadio. “And that’s what we’re doing. We’re apologizing for that behavior. We can do better.”

They said the training will include the following: 

  1. “A facilitated, professional development discussion on our ethical and professional responsibilities, including the need for appropriate and transparent communications (see Board Policy B-1) during either our November 17, 2020 or December 1, 2020 Board meeting.  

  2. “In light of concerns that have been raised about Board members’ compliance with the Open and Public Meetings Act, we will have our Board attorney from Burbidge and White provide additional training for all Board members, including new Board members, on the Open and Public Meetings Act and Public Officers and Employee’s Ethics Act. This will take place during one of our scheduled Board meetings,” the letter said.

“The process of coming together, these meetings and setting some standards… the goal is to bring the Board together,” said Ford.

“Not every Board member signed this [the letter],” Ford acknowledged. “But I do believe every Board member is focused on making good decisions for our students.”

Ford said she believes the Board coming together is a step towards getting students back in the classroom from remote instruction. “I think a united Board will be better able to make important decisions without our personal difference getting in the way,” explained Ford. 

The Board also said it appreciates the feedback and concerns from parents. It encouraged parents and community members to continue addressing questions and issues. 

“We are committed to working together to rebuild the reputation of the Board and to restoring your trust, not only in our leadership but also in this amazing district,” the Board said. “We are determined to get this right.” 

Concerned parent responds to the letter

Raina Williams, the concerned parent who released the public records, says the apology letter from the Board isn’t enough.

“I don’t think it is a great apology,” Williams told KSL NewsRadio. “I don’t believe it’s a sincere apology from the perpetrators of the violations and misdemeanors,” Williams said referring to Board members Nate Salazar, Samuel Hanson, Katherine Kennedy and Michelle Tuitupou. 

Williams said she would like to see a personal apology to each parent mentioned in emails and texts by the four Board members accused of violating open meeting rules.  

“I also think much bigger issues were brought to light,” said Williams. “I don’t think the kids are the top priority.

“In the apology letter, she [Ford] stated, basically, that they are going to take more time away from focusing on educating the kids and bring in their lawyer and getting training on the Open Meetings Act that they’ve already had before.” 

Specifically, Williams states she would like to see the Board members held accountable for their actions. 

Read the full School Board letter below 

October 28, 2020

Dear Salt Lake City School District community,

As members of your elected Board of Education, we would like to take a moment to address you, our friends and community.

Recently, you have likely read or seen stories about some of our Board members behaving in a manner not in keeping with the high standards of the office to which you have elected us. To put it simply: you and our students deserve better. This is not who we want to be as a Board; it does not represent the behavior we want to model for our community, and especially for our students.   

As a first step, we would like to apologize to those individuals who were disparaged or embarrassed by what was written in correspondence between Board members. We are deeply sorry for breaking your trust and for causing hurt to constituents about whom we care deeply. 

This moment provides us with an opportunity to reflect, to commit to do better, and to focus on real change and the promising future of the Salt Lake City School District. We are committed to working together to rebuild the reputation of the Board and to restoring your trust, not only in our leadership, but also in this amazing district. We are determined to get this right.  

Recognizing we can do better and acknowledging our shortcomings are only the first steps in creating the Board we know we can be, and that we need to be, to represent the Salt Lake City School District community. The following are some immediate corrective steps we are taking to regain your confidence and trust:   

  1. We will have a facilitated, professional development discussion on our ethical and professional responsibilities, including the need for appropriate and transparent communications (see Board Policy B-1) during either our November 17, 2020 or December 1, 2020 Board meeting. 
     
  2. In light of concerns that have been raised about Board members’ compliance with the Open and Public Meetings Act, we will have our Board attorney from Burbidge and White provide additional training for all Board members, including new Board members, on the Open and Public Meetings Act and Public Officers and Employee’s Ethics Act. This will take place during one of our scheduled Board meetings.  

As we recommit ourselves to serving you with dignity and respect, we want to thank you for your patience and understanding. We value your input and request that you continue to reach out to us as we move forward in a deliberate, transparent, and trustworthy manner. We value your input. We cannot do our jobs well without your feedback, even—actually, especially—when it is different from our own opinions. Only together and representing all voices can we make decisions in the best interest of all our students.  

Sincerely,  

Melissa Ford                                     
Board President, Precinct 6   

Nate Salazar
Board Vice President, Precinct 4

Michelle Tuitupou                                            
Precinct 1                                                                    

Katherine Kennedy 
Precinct 3 

Samuel Hanson                                                                                                        
Precinct 5