How Administrators Manipulate Complaints Against Employees in Gilbert Public Schools

Administrators manipulate complaints against employees on a whim, it seems. The system in Gilbert Public Schools is set up to do maximum harm with little or no accountability, as clearly shown in the examples below. Superintendents, principals and attorneys "make it up as they go along" in pursuing their goals -- without regard to the manifest unfairness of their motives and actions. Teachers and support staff generally will never know what has happened, because they generally are told to resign before the investigation proceeds, and most employees are never shown the complaints against them. If an employee balks at this, expect the freight train of doom to speed down the tracks with only one end in sight -- firing the employee who didn't resign under pressure.


Example One: In the case of the teacher who endured blatant racial discrimination, Nikki Blanchard joined with Spectrum Elementary School principal Debbie Singleton to "create documentation" against that teacher after a parent called the office to complain about "the parking lot attendant" who had helped her daughter out of the car on January 22, 2009. Debbie Singleton told the teacher about the parent complaint on January 23, 2009, saying that she had handled the matter.

That was not the end of it, however. Progressive Documentation could be created!  The parent emailed Ms. Singleton on January 27, 2009, five days after the alleged incident. The subject of the parent's email was Phone Call:

"Last Thursday, January 22, I was dropping my daughters off at school in the parent drop off. My older daughter was out of the car and waiting for her sister, a kindergartener, to get out to the backseat. The parking lot attendant came up to the car as she was climbing out, grabbed her by her left arm and told her to hurry up because she was holding up traffic. She then slammed the car door before I could respond. Friday morning I called the school and spoke to the receptionist to issue a complaint. I received a call back around 2:30pm from the principal and was told the issue would be addressed. Please let me know if you need anything else. I can be reached by cell phone xxx-xxx-xxxx. Thank you."

Debbie Singleton replied two hours later by email,

"Thank you Ms. Bybee for your notes. I appreciate your help."

Exactly one minute later, Debbie Singleton forwarded Ms. Bybee's email to Nikki Blanchard, subject Phone Call:

"Here is the message regarding the complaint about the teacher. Thank you for your help. Deb"

The teacher was put on admin leave on January 27, 2009. There was a meeting in Nikki Blanchard's office on January 29, 2009. Nikki Blanchard gave the teacher a letter on February 4, 2009, which included the comment that the teacher had related to the principal that she was uncomfortable opening car doors and felt that there were several parents that locked their car doors and wouldn't allow the teacher to open the door for their child.

Nikki Blanchard decided the teacher would no longer be assigned to parent drop off duty because of the parent's apparent aversion to having a black teacher touch her child. Although the letter was not disciplinary, Nikki Blanchard issued a directive to the teacher to maintain just, courteous relationships with students, implying that the teacher's previous conduct was somehow deficient, even if Nikki Blanchard and Debbie Singleton couldn't exactly prove it. The letter concluded:

"Thank you for your professional behavior and conduct during our meeting and your willingness to work with your school administrator."

Nevertheless, that same letter later was used to imply that the teacher had problems during her employment in Gilbert Public Schools.


Example Two: Gilbert Public Schools policies and regulations concerning public complaints are unique among districts in the Arizona School Board Association. There is no mention of, or provision for, due process protections for accused employees. In GPS policies KEB and KEB-R, Public Concerns/Complaints About Personnel, there is no mention of or provision for allowing the employee to respond before the decision-maker makes a determination and replies to a complainant. There is no mention of or provision for telling the employee the results of the investigation or any adverse personnel actions that the decision maker takes against an employee.

The parents of the bully filed a retaliatory complaint against Sarah two months after the meeting that upset them. Sarah described how the investigation into a complaint made by parent was conducted:

For most of the interview, I did not know who filed the complaint or what it was about. After we had been talking for about an hour and a half, the interviewer gave me a copy of the *****s' complaint against me. This was the first time that I knew Vicki Hester had impugned my reputation with the *****s by apologizing for my "unprofessional conduct," which coincidently or not, was the same charge the *****s made in their complaint.

The *****s may not have been well versed in the intricacies of educational licensing, but Vicki Hester knew exactly what would happen. The *****s discussed their complaint with Vicki Hester prior to filing it, as the complaint stated:

After much discussion and contemplation, we did not initially file a complaint against Ms. Sarah Green for two reasons. First, we were concerned about the possibility of retaliation from Ms. Green and her teacher friends and staff towards our daughter. After witnessing Ms. Green's visible anger and unprofessional demeanor at the March 4, 2011 meeting, we were genuinely concern [sic]. Secondly it was our preference not to be involved in a complaint that could potentially damage Ms. Green's career. But now, after having been recently informed by an attorney from Gilbert Public Schools that there is a current complaint ... we felt compelled to set the record straight.

The *****s' complaint stated on its face that it was retaliatory and that it was filed after attorney Denise Lowell-Britt told the parents that there was a complaint against Vicki Hester. That wasn't quite true, and months later Denise Lowell-Britt was forced to acknowledge before a government agency that no one actually had filed a complaint against Vicki Hester. The investigation, however, purposefully neglected to consider the *****s' retaliatory motive and intent to injure in filing this complaint against their child's "favorite teacher."

The *****s then refused to be interviewed, saying that their complaint included all they wanted to say. The investigation report was marked attorney-client privileged. Immediately after receiving the report, Nikki Blanchard immediately sent a defamatory letter to the *****s, without talking to Sarah about the results of the investigation and without telling Sarah about that letter. That was the extent of fairness in this incident -- fairness was not part of the process. Sarah described reading Nikki Blanchard's letter:

Her malice in defaming me without giving me an opportunity to be heard before taking action against me shocks the conscience of a reasonable person...
Without even an appearance of affording me constitutionally guaranteed rights of due process, the district destroyed my reputation as a teacher by forever tagging me with "unprofessional conduct," a career-ending charge, defined by state law, and linked in public perception with crimes such as child molestation or embezzlement.

Sarah responded to Nikki Blanchard's letter to the *****s:

Many of the problems here could have been averted by openly communicating and ensuring that Meridian Elementary School provides a safe, secure and respectful learning environment for all students. My goal was to stop ****'s bullying, but also to reduce the risk of future incidents. This was my parents' goal as well. Instead of working collaboratively toward that goal, you took a complaint from parents that stated on its face that it was retaliatory, and you pursued a malicious course of conduct with the motive of ruining my career.

There is a history of publicly releasing  information from investigations: the Arizona Republic on December 28, 2010 quoted a conclusion in Denise Lowell-Britt's investigation report related to a middle school teacher who was accused of inappropriately touching a female student during class ... the teacher "engaged in unprofessional conduct." Denise Lowell-Britt's report further stated that teacher violated the "staff ethics" policy "to maintain just, courteous and proper relationships with students"  just like the directive Nikki Blanchard gave to the teacher in Example One above.


Example Three: Public records in Denise Lowell-Britt's investigation file revealed that Jeff Filloon called the parent of a student in Sarah's classroom, interrupting the family during a vacation in Disneyland after the school year ended.

Jeff Filloon was "investigating" a comment that Sarah made in an email to Vicki Hester following a tragic accident involving students at Meridian Elementary School. His goal was to prove that Sarah had made a false statement to her principal. The manufactured controversy was over Sarah's objection to Vicki Hester asking a parent if their child "had a good relationship" with Sarah as the child's teacher. Vicki Hester claimed she never did that.

Jeff Filloon's quest was, without alarming the parent about the purpose of his investigation, to prove Sarah lied. Just as Denise Lowell-Britt "put words in the mouth" of witnesses during interviews, Jeff Filloon manipulated a witness's testimony. Just as Denise Lowell-Britt wrote text for Sarah's evaluation, Jeff Filloon "created documentation" to suit his purposes. The immediate problem for the district was that two investigations had not shown grievous misconduct on Sarah's part, so Jeff Filloon, working with Vicki Hester and Denise Lowell-Britt, set out to tighten the noose around Sarah's neck.

After talking to the parent on the telephone, Jeff Filloon sent that parent an email:

I want to thank you for taking the time out of your family vacation to speak with me. I have attached a summary of our conversation. Please let me know if this is an accurate reflection of our conversation. If there is anything that needs to be changed, please let me know. If it looks accurate, please say, "I approve of this summary statement". I look forward to your email response.

Jeff Filloon also wrote a memo on May 27, 2011:

Jeff Filloon, Human Resources Director for Gilbert Public Schools, had a telephone conversation with ***, Meridian Elementary School parent...Mr. Filloon asked *** if she had recently spoken with Vicki Hester, principal of Meridian Elementary School.  *** said, "yes"...

Mr. Filloon asked *** if there was any dialogue about [child's] rapport or relationship with Ms. Sarah Green. *** said, "no", why?" Mr. Filloon said that a concern had been raised by Ms. Green.  *** told Mr. Filloon that not once during her conversation with Mrs. Hester did Mrs. Hester ask about [child's] relationship with Ms. Green.

Jeff Filloon didn't have to pretend to be independent or even fair in his investigation. He emailed Vicki Hester and Denise Lowell-Britt later that same day:

Denise and Vicki,
... *** did say there was no conversation about the relationship between the teacher and student ever brought up during the conversation. Very supportive all of Vicki's help during this ordeal.

Jeff Filloon then crafted a summary of the conversation and emailed it for the parent to endorse, including this statement:

*** told Mr. Filloon that not once during *** conversation with Mrs. Hester did Mrs. Hester ask about ***'s relationship with Ms. Green.

The parent, by email on May 28, 2011, wrote that Jeff Filloon's account sounded accurate and complete, then added:

... Admittedly, I am still confused and somewhat concerned where your concern arose because I feel as I stated to you before, that the school and all involved were more than helpful in their efforts to make last week as comfortable for our children as possible. I do recall and don't know if this came out in the conversation, but the only time 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...

Once again, the district arrayed its big guns against a small teacher. Although the parent explicitly contradicted Jeff Filloon's write up, this incident became Charge # 9 in the Statement of Charges against Sarah. This incident illustrates Jeff Filloon's integrity and his belief in "creating documentation" to further his objectives. The bottom line is that an employee can NEVER feel secure in the toxic environment of Gilbert Public Schools. Teachers and support staff, be careful!

Example Four:  Anonymous complaints can sink a principal as easily as a teacher:

Gilbert Public Schools has hired an attorney to look into allegations of unprofessional conduct against Brian Yee, Highland Junior High School's principal.

Associate Superintendent Nikki Blanchard told the school staff on Tuesday that the district had hired Phoenix attorney Matt Wright of the Holm Wright Hyde and Hays law firm to look into allegations raised in a series of anonymous letters sent to school-board members and the media...

... The Arizona Republic and the Gilbert school board received a packet of 11 anonymous letters citing examples of problems at the Mesa school for at least a year. District officials have said they have received no formal complaints, only anonymous ones, against the principal.

It's not just Gilbert Public Schools that operates this way. Other school districts advised by attorney Denise Lowell-Britt do much the same:

The Higley Unified governing board approved San Tan Elementary Principal Alfonso Alva's resignation Thursday, three weeks after the popular principal was put on administrative leave.

The official reason for putting him on leave has not been disclosed, but parents and teachers have many theories as they rally around a principal they say has turned their school around and was forced out of his job.

Board President Kim Anderson said she recognizes a change in leadership is an "upheaval" for the school and because the district can't say anything, rumors have filled that void. Anderson did say Alva had been under investigation, but declined to elaborate.

A second newspaper article two weeks later disclosed little more than fuel for the fire:

One of the biggest questions involves why he was placed on administrative leave right after Thanksgiving and prior to his Dec. 15 resignation; there are no disciplinary records in Alva's personnel file and no records from an investigation.

"As far as I know, the investigation initially consisted of meetings with relevant individuals," attorney Denise Lowell-Britt told The Republic in an e-mail. "Based upon the information that was verbally given, and Dr. Alva's decision to resign, there was never a need to create written findings."

It appears that Gilbert Public Schools and their go-to attorneys don't need to follow no stinkin' rules.

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