Yakima School Board

The Yakima School Board. From left: Martha Rice, Donald Davis Jr., Berenice Ponce, Raymond Navarro Jr. and Graciela Villanueva.

The June removal of Yakima School Board member Donald Davis Jr. from his role as vice president was due in part to an “uncomfortable” confrontation between Davis and a student at Stanton Academy over alleged student use of a racial slur, according to district records.

Davis was also publicly censured and banned from Stanton Academy for five years.

Board President Raymond Navarro said the decision was in response to two separate violations of board policy.

One was a conflict of interest in encouraging student and employee attendance of a community event, while the other was an “inappropriate” interaction with a Stanton student, Navarro said in June. He did not elaborate on the circumstances of the student interaction.

A list of potential violations of conduct by Davis was also compiled by a fellow board member, according to district records.

Davis denies all the allegations.

The Stanton incident

District records of work emails, work computer files, filing systems and archives detail communication following an interaction between Davis and a student on Oct. 29, 2018. The documents were obtained through a public records request to the district.

On Nov. 1, 2018, Stanton Academy Principal Dave Chaplin emailed then-Superintendent Jack Irion a summary of a student report of the interaction, in which the student alleged Davis made him “uncomfortable.”

According to Chaplin’s summary of the student’s report, Vice Principal Sharon Harris responded to a call from a substitute teacher during fourth period on Oct. 29. The summary states that the substitute asked her to come to a physical education class to address a student who was not in his assigned class. Davis had been on campus prior to the call and accompanied Harris to the class, according to the summary.

Chaplin’s written summary of the event alleges that when Harris entered the PE room, one student was lifting weights “and his friend was saying loudly, ‘come on (N-word), come on’ as encouragement.” Harris reportedly then offered to lead the second student, who had allegedly used the slur, to his assigned class, which he agreed to do without argument.

Before the student left, the summary alleges that the substitute PE teacher “pulled the boys aside as he was leaving and told them, ‘You say that word around the wrong people you’ll end up getting slapped!’”

“This was a reminder to the boys of using appropriate language,” Chaplin wrote in the summary.

The summary alleges that after the students returned to their respective classes, Davis confronted the first student, who had been lifting weights, telling him not to use “that word.”

Chaplin’s summary of the event says that the student denied using the slur, saying. “I didn’t, but whatever!” The summary alleges that Davis replied by saying, “Whatever my ass!” after which the student returned to class.

At lunch roughly an hour later, the summary alleges that Davis approached the same student’s table and accused the student of using the slur. The summary then alleges Davis guessed that the student was of Latino ethnicity and asked, “How would you feel if I called you a w------,” a derogatory term used to describe Mexicans.

The summary alleges a back-and-forth between Davis and the student, who each allegedly threatened the other.

In the summary, Chaplin said he was observing the lunchroom when the incident occurred. He was roughly 50 feet from the lunch table and could not hear the conversation, but the students involved “appeared to be laughing.”

Records and investigation

The summary of the event was written by Chaplin following an Oct. 31, 2018, interview with the primary student — two days after the incident.

In an email from Chaplin to then-Superintendent Irion on Nov. 1, Chaplin says the student provided a consistent report of the event to Chaplin, another school official and the student’s probation officer.

In a separate external email, Chaplin said Davis “confirmed the events as they transpired” during a Nov. 5 meeting between Chaplin, Irion and Davis, except for the confrontational words the student accused Davis of using. The email also said that Davis told Irion and Chaplin that the student had used a racial slur to describe the substitute PE teacher, which Chaplin said the substitute denied.

Contacted Thursday, Davis declined to comment on the conversation with Irion and Chaplin, referring questions to his attorney. He did not provide or confirm his attorney’s name.

According to a document written by Yakima school board member Martha Rice summarizing various potential violations of conduct by Davis, an independent investigation into an October complaint against Davis by a Stanton student over “an inappropriate verbal altercation” was launched Nov. 30.

An independent consulting firm, Clear Risk Solutions, conducted an investigation into the matter and submitted the results to Navarro on Jan. 25, according to district records.

The investigation report outlines the Stanton events based on interviews with the substitute teacher, Harris, Irion, Chaplin, and four students whose names were redacted. The report also outlines board job description and code of conduct policies.

The report alleges that Davis stated he needed to discuss the matter with his attorney before being interviewed on two different occasions, and was never interviewed.

District records show that Davis sought legal counsel in early December.

Clear Risk Solutions investigator Marv Scott wrote in the report conclusion that “The preponderance of evidence substantiated that Mr. Davis overstepped his authority as a board member when he directly questioned a student about saying the ‘N’ word and later again confronted the same student about the issue.”

The investigation was paid for by the district, although the exact cost could not be determined because it was covered by the district’s annual insurance premiums, according to Scott Izutsu, associate superintendent of business services.

Censure, reprimand

During a board executive session May 13, 2019, complaints against Davis were discussed, according to district meeting minutes. Davis left before the executive session began. The board then re-opened the session and voted unanimously to demote Davis from his vice president position, publicly censure him and ban him from Stanton Academy for five years.

Public documents show Navarro notified Davis of the board’s decision May 15.

On June 10, Davis was publicly censured during a board meeting he did not attend. The censure also referenced a conflict of interest, in which Davis solicited support for a community-based youth violence prevention event from district students and staff in April 2019. Navarro read comments from Davis during the censure.

“I prefer not to be part of the spectacle,” Davis said in his written statement. “Do whatever you need to do. I deny all complaints and charges. I was just doing the work I was called to do on behalf of students.”

In an email to a community member later that month, Navarro wrote that the board “determined he violated board policy by overstepping his authority as a school board member and confronting a student in an inappropriate manner at that school.”

“There are no other complaints or allegations of HIB (harassment, intimidation or bullying) at other schools reported against him (Davis),” Navarro wrote in the email.

Potential violations of conduct

Additional potential violations of conduct by Davis during his time on the board were documented by board member Martha Rice, according to district records. Rice sent a chart to Irion in a January email outlining a list of incidents.

“I was advised to document these when he started talking about securing legal counsel for ‘harassment’ of him by the Board,” Rice said in the email, adding that the attached file was not exhaustive.

The listed potential violations include:

  • Alleging that in August 2018, Davis promised Irion a raise if the then-superintendent could reach a contract agreement with the Yakima Education Association.
  • Alleging that in September 2018, a community member reported a breach of confidentiality by Davis.
  • Alleging that in October 2018, Davis was overheard telling a classified employee, “Don’t worry, the district has the money,” during union negotiations.
  • Alleging that in November 2018, a Washington State School Directors’ Association board member reported a breach of confidentiality by Davis.

Contacted Thursday, Davis denied each allegation. He referred further questions to his attorney.

Davis’ school board history

Davis, pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Yakima, was unanimously appointed to the school board in January 2016 after board member Walt Ranta stepped down the month prior. He was among eight people vying for the position.

In November 2017, Davis ran unopposed for a four-year term on the board and was elected with 98 percent of the vote.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka