Attorney Denise Lowell-Britt:
"Independent Investigator" for Gilbert Public Schools
Gives Legal Advice to Persons Under Investigation!
Schools Board Member Apologizes for the District's
Retaliation Against Sarah - be
sure to read what he says about the advice Attorney Denise
Lowell-Britt gave the board before they voted.
Udall, Shumway & Lyons, had been advising
Gilbert Public Schools since
at least March 9, 2011 about matters related to Sarah
and to her family. Sarah did not know this fact until
October 5, 2011, when she reviewed Denise Lowell-Britt's
investigation file that was made available by Gilbert
Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Clyde
Dangerfield. The documents in the investigation
file were astounding...and unredacted.
Recall that Sarah
reported bullying on February 7, 2011; principal Vicki
Hester called Associate Superintendent Nikki Blanchard
on March 4, 2011 with an unspecified charge of
"unprofessional conduct" against Sarah. Nikki Blanchard
called Sarah and Vicki Hester to her office on March 7,
2011 and announced she was starting an investigation of
Sarah. Nikki Blanchard said she would tell Sarah what
the charges against her were when she finished that
investigation. As Nikki Blanchard ordered, Sarah had a
box of about 1,000 pages of documents delivered to the
GPS Human Resources office on March 8, 2011.
hand-written note in the investigation file: "3/10/11
TCW Diane Petit - Don't do anything until after
spring break." Spring Break was the following week;
Nikki Blanchard had travel plans.
Denise Lowell-Britt was officially appointed on March 24, 2011, by Associate
Superintendent Nikki Blanchard and Assistant
Superintendent Shane McCord, to investigate concerns
Sarah's parents brought to Shane McCord during a meeting
on March 23, 2011. The investigation report was dated
June 9, 2011 -- that's 92 days that Denise Lowell-Britt
spent determining that bullying at Meridian Elementary
School was not as big a problem as Sarah had reported.
In their initial interview on March 30, 2011, Thomas and Denise
specifically asked Denise Lowell-Britt if she
represented Gilbert Public Schools in this investigation. Denise
Lowell-Britt stated she was an "independent
investigator" and was not acting as an attorney for the
district. Thomas and Denise believed her, at the time.
Events would later reveal otherwise.
Sarah was forthright and
provided written notes and documentary evidence to prove
her words. It was very apparent that Sarah believed
Denise Lowell-Britt when she told Sarah that she was an
"independent investigator." Sarah believed Denise
Lowell-Britt could help correct the problems Sarah
reported. We all know the saying
about good intentions.
Sarah's notes given to
Denise Lowell-Britt on April 19, 2011, during Sarah's
first interview with the "independent investigator"
I ask that you
acknowledge my response constitutes written notice to designees
of the Gilbert Public Schools Board, although I would like to
continue working at the most informal level possible to correct
the situations I describe. My annual professional evaluation
conference is scheduled for April 27, 2011, and I request
protection from reprisals under Arizona whistleblower laws (ARS
38-531 to -534).
discussed Sarah's situation with Arizona Education Association
attorney Samantha Blevins, even though Sarah told Denise
Lowell-Britt quite clearly that Samantha Blevins did not represent
Sarah in these matters.
Sarah's email that Denise Lowell-Britt shared with Samantha Blevins
...I much prefer
priority be given to giving my students and their parents the
attention and assistance they need to overcome the effects of
bullying in our classroom. Indicators of their distress can be
shown by absences, especially in the third quarter:
Student *** who was not absent at all in the first two quarters
of the year, missed 6 days of school n the third quarter because
of **** bullying. Student *** missed 4 days of school in the
third quarter and 2 days so far in the fourth quarter. *** is
the student whose mother said *** was afraid to come to school
because of ****'s bullying. Student *** missed 4 days in the
third quarter. My students still express fear when they see
***** in the halls, the lunchroom, and on the playground.
We have been waiting
for 75 days and there are only 30 days left in the school year.
My students will return to Meridian next year, whether I do or
not. They deserve more than deliberate indifference to bullying
from the district.
Sarah did not know that
Denise Lowell-Britt was coaching the person she was supposed to be
investigating; Denise Lowell-Britt actually wrote text for Sarah's
emailed that text to Vicki Hester, who included some of it
in Sarah's evaluation (text appears near the end of page 4 in
the .pdf document). Sarah
disagreed with her evaluation, and noted a comment was
inaccurate and not based on Vicki Hester's own knowledge. Sarah
learned later that was the text written by Denise Lowell-Britt.
The end of year
evaluation was good, but Denise Lowell-Britt advised Vicki Hester,
with a copy to Associate Superintendent Nikki Blanchard: "If need be later, the District can
create documentation that reflects that the matters raised
in the April 4 letter of direction were not included in the
evaluation because they were contested and the investigation did
not conclude prior to the time of her evaluation." [emphasis
It was truly atrocious
that Denise Lowell-Britt's attempt to interview the parents of the
bully was the spark that directly led to the parents filing a
complaint against Sarah on May 16, 2011:
But now, after
having been recently informed by an attorney from Gilbert Public
Schools [Denise Lowell-Britt] that there is a current complaint
from both Sarah and her mother Denise against Ms.
Hester, we felt compelled to set the record straight.
that Denise Lowell-Britt wrote following her lengthy "independent investigation"
is filled with factual errors, internal inconsistencies and logical
loopholes exonerating Meridian Elementary School Principal Vicki
Hester of wrongdoing:
the premise upon which this allegation is based is not true, the
supposition that Ms. Hester and Ms. Blanchard were trying to
"cover up" Ms. Hester's omissions does not logically follow.
...I have not sought
to identify or include my findings regarding each and every
allegation because of their large number.
...I did not find
evidence to support the conclusion that Ms. Hester had engaged
in any violations of Governing Board Policy or Administrative
Regulations or law relative to [teacher].
At the outbriefing of
the report of investigation on August 5, 2011, Denise Lowell-Britt
gave Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield legal advice that it
was in Gilbert Public Schools' best interests not to delve into facts about
discrimination against a Meridian teacher or discuss the
Judge's findings against Gilbert Public Schools.
efforts were in vain, because Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Dave Allison made
the connection crystal clear when he specifically included
dropping Sarah's charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission a condition of allowing Sarah to resign from Gilbert
Public Schools rather than
be fired by the Governing Board.
First Response to the Report of Denise Lowell-Britt's
"independent investigation," factual errors were called out, without
benefit of having a copy of the report for reference:
This response is
based on limited recollections of a thirty minute review of a 45
page investigation report riddled with factual errors...We were
told, without warning and only at the conclusion of the
investigation outbriefing, that we would not be allowed to keep
a copy...It is obvious that the District's intent is to deny us
access to essential information as the clock ticks on the
deadline for our response to the investigation report.
...Even the preordained conclusions of the investigation report
cannot deny that a total of 179 days elapsed between the date
that Sarah first reported bullying and the investigation
outbriefing. The District did nothing to help any of the
victims of bullying during those 179 days. The District did
nothing about the retaliation and harassment Sarah reported
during those 179 days. [bold text in original in all of
...During the outbriefing, a District official stated plainly
that the District will do nothing to Vicki Hester or Nikki
Blanchard. It is clear that these investigations were never
anything more than pretext and window dressing for District
policies that seem to exist merely because the law requires
...Intentional delays: Five months and 29 days elapsed
between the date that Sarah first reported bullying and
the investigation outbriefing.
...Intentional ignorance: It appears that the
investigator turned, twirled and swirled to avoid areas that
might reveal unfavorable information about the District and key
...The investigation was not impartial: There were many
indicators that the investigation would reach foregone
conclusions. The investigator jumped through hoops to resolve
inconsistencies in a way that was favorable to the District.
...The investigation was not remedial
...The District turned a blind eye to harassment and
...The District retaliated by involuntarily transferring
Sarah to a different school.
...Culpable administrators and the District will be humiliated
when this knowledge becomes public. Damages, even for the
victims of bullying, can be mitigated ... if it's not already
too late for the innocent young victims.
took a public records request to get a copy of the investigation
report. Factual errors and mischaracterizations were stunning, as
recounted in a
second response to Denise Lowell-Britt's investigation report
after the Greens had a chance to review the report at length:
...Now that we have had an opportunity to read thoroughly a copy
of the investigation report, we can state unequivocally that the
investigation was reckless and inadequate.
The investigation summary we read in Denise Lowell-Britt's
office on August 5, 2011 differs from the document we received
from the District.
...Mischaracterizing Sarah's reports of retaliation and
harassment reveals studied, purposeful inadequacies of the
investigation and the District's deliberate indifference to
Sarah's reports. [bold text in original in all of these
article Denise Lowell-Britt wrote for the National School Boards
Association, Dealing with Office for Civil Rights Complaints,
February 2008, she offers a suggestion: "Retaliation may include
not only firing a district employee, but it may also include
creating a hostile environment in the workplace." We also note
that Denise Lowell-Britt was scheduled to present at the Arizona
School Boards Association Law Conference on September 9, 2011: How a District Can Avoid the Long, Costly Reach of the Office
for Civil Rights: Proactive Steps Every District Should Take.
Her expertise in civil rights issues and advising school boards
should have paved the path of this investigation. It did, but
the path led the wrong way...
...It appears that Shane
McCord and Denise Lowell-Britt ignored Sarah's reports of
retaliation and harassment while the investigation proceeded.
...It is striking that at
least one other report of bullying seems to have disappeared and
the reporting teacher did not know what happened after she sent
her written report to Vicki Hester.
...There are other conflicts
in evidence and testimony that should have been reviewed,
because they are essential elements in remedying the problems at
investigation appears to have ignored the big picture by
focusing on the wrong things.
...The District had the benefit
(unknown to us) of an experienced investigator with expertise in
matters relating to federal laws, state laws and regulatory
requirements. Yet this investigation was conveniently selective
in that there was plenty of evidence that a retaliatory hostile
environment existed and the District unreasonably failed to
address it, thereby injuring students and teachers. Denise
Lowell-Britt failed to consider all the material evidence that
existed in reaching her conclusions, which renders this
investigation recklessly inadequate. Further, although the
District has policies in place to address the matters in the
complaint, there was not a sincere commitment to follow or
evenly enforce those policies.
The District should have shown that the complaint was taken
seriously, and should have been followed by a timely,
appropriate response. That appropriateness and associated good
faith are conspicuously missing in this case. Instead, evidence
shows that in the past two years, the District has deployed its
overwhelming bureaucratic power against teachers disfavored by
supervisors who are in positions to ruin careers, reputations
and lives, while turning a blind eye to reports of bullying,
sexual harassment, and racial discrimination that causes great
On October 5 and October
7, 2011, Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield "opened his
books" following a public records request to review the documents from attorney Denise
Lowell-Britt's investigation. Until then, Sarah had been
unaware of the collusion between Nikki Blanchard, Vicki Hester,
Diane Drazinski and attorney Denise Lowell-Britt.
Documents show attorney Denise
Lowell-Britt was well aware of Sarah's repeated pleas for help for
her students and Sarah's repeated reports of harassment and
retaliation. Emails in the investigation file showed that showed Dave
Allison, Nikki Blanchard, Shane McCord and Clyde Dangerfield were
"in the loop" contemporaneously, as were principals Vicki Hester and
Notes in the
investigation file showed Gilbert Education Association President Diane Drazinski advocated
for giving Sarah the letter of direction. Nikki Blanchard didn't
have to drive a wedge between GEA members and their officers; they
worked hand-in-hand against a GEA member, as was evident in the
comment to Board Member Staci Burk that Sarah is a "great
teacher, just not suitable for the Gilbert environment."
Other indicators that
attorney Denise Lowell-Britt's investigation was never intended to be prompt,
impartial or remedial included that witnesses, including Diane
Drazinski, were allowed to review
Denise Lowell-Britt's notes from interviews of other witnesses. The
Greens were not allowed to review interview notes of other witnesses, or even know what
other witnesses said, prior to the outbriefing on August 5, 2011.
Although Denise Lowell-Britt made comments to the Greens about the
"integrity of the investigation," it appears that was merely
Handwritten notes document telephone calls with Nikki Blanchard that
show collusion. Emails written by Jeff Filloon to Denise
Lowell-Britt as he "investigated" a situation with a parent after
the school year was over shows that Jeff Filloon attempted to shape
testimony to be used against Sarah. (This relates to
Charge #9). Fortunately for Sarah, the
parent did not let Jeff Filloon put words in her mouth, instead
emailing a clarification to Jeff Filloon: "...Mrs. Hester asked about the
relationship between our [children] and their respective
teachers was when she asked if they had a 'good
relationship' with their teachers."
Denise Lowell-Britt advised
the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board on December 6, 2011 to adopt the Statement of
Charges as Superintendent Allison recommended, after
Clyde Dangerfield recused himself as the board's legal
counsel. This was a result of board member Staci Burk
suggesting that as an attorney, Clyde Dangerfield might have a conflict of
interests regarding the charges against Sarah.
Unfortunately, the board did not accept Staci Burk's
recommendation to retain legal counsel of their own -- that's
how the board ended up with attorney Denise Lowell-Britt's
about the Statement of Charges against Sarah.
If Clyde Dangerfield had a
conflict of interests or other ethical dilemma
concerning the charges against Sarah, it defies logic to
believe Denise Lowell-Britt did not suffer the same
professional ethical conflict in advising the Governing
Board of Gilbert Public Schools. A process server served
attorney Denise Lowell-Britt with two Notices of Claim
less than a month before -- in Denise Lowell-Britt's
official capacity as an attorney for Gilbert Public
Schools and also in her personal capacity as an attorney
for Gilbert Public Schools.
Some of the charges in the
Statement of Charges Against Sarah come directly
from Denise Lowell-Britt's "independent investigation."
* The road
to hell is paved with good intentions.
Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. <go