Two parents on Oct. 5 told the Elk Grove Unified School District board that a middle school’s principal and vice principal racially discriminated against their African American daughter.
The mother said that her 12-year-old child was forced to change her clothes in public view outside her locker room since she was banned from accessing that room, and she could not use a crowded restroom for changing.
Heather Washington said that her daughter is leaving Katherine Albiani Middle School after she experienced false allegations of violating school rules as well as a punishment that was later overturned. She noted that her child is an honor student who visited her top college choice of Howard University.
Heather directed her criticism toward Principal Brie Bajar and Vice Principal Kristen Couchot.
“Why does my daughter have to leave a school that is near home-where she is excelling and loving her classes, and leaving her friends to feel safe from school leadership?” the parent said.
Trustees were legally prohibited from responding since the Washingtons spoke during the board meeting’s public comment period.
Heather emotionally recounted her daughter’s experience that started in August at Albiani Middle School.
She said that a classmate first accused her daughter of “looking around” in the locker room where she was changing after a physical education class and was waiting for her friends. Her daughter was then moved to a locker at the teacher’s office. The parent added that the school staff never contacted her and her husband about the incident.
On Sept. 20, Heather said that her daughter informed her that her class schedule was changed and she was banned from using the locker room. The same classmate accused her of looking around the room again, she said.
Heather and her husband Charles then met with Bajar and Cochout.
“They both verbally apologized for what happened in August, but it was nothing major and (they) apologized for taking disciplinary action before speaking with us,” Heather said.
She added that she and Charles reviewed the school policy and said their daughter’s punishment was unacceptable. Another meeting with the school officials was set for Sept. 22.
The mother then told the school board that on Sept. 21, her daughter was crying when she called her about the incident where she was not allowed into the locker room and she had no choice but to change her clothes outside.
The student’s parents then went to the school and Heather stated that the principal met them with an armed law enforcement officer. She said that the officer excused himself since he was a fraternity brother of her husband.
Heather said that the principal claimed that her daughter violated a school order and she could have changed her clothes in a restroom. The mother also alleged that the principal falsified a claim that her daughter made a sexual statement toward a classmate back in the August incident.
“The principal that represents your district now sexualized my daughter and questioned her sexual orientation,” Heather said.
On the day after the incident, her daughter was directed to the counselor’s office where she was informed that her schedule would be changed and she could regain her access to the locker room.
Charles, who said that he worked with inmates at a youth detention center, said his daughter was denied due process.
“You shouldn’t work with kids if you don’t have a level of empathy,” he said.
Charles stated racism is a factor in their daughter’s situation.
“In my dealings with racists, it’s not about them being wrong, it’s about you not being right,” he said.
Charles called for a diverse school staff and he argued that diversity training is not enough for school employees since such training does not change hearts. He said that Albiani’s principal and Couchot need to be “extracted.”
Loreen Pryor, an advocate from the Black Youth Leadership Project, called upon the school board to take action. She addressed cases of alleged mistreatment of African American students at Elk Grove Unified’s schools over the past several years. Pryor said that she already received six complaints about school staff members in the past month.
“At what point does the board step in and give directives, and tell the staff to knock it off?” she said. “These are children. There’s no way a 12-year-old should have been banned from a locker room.”