Washoe County School District Ringing In New Year With Unresolved Lawsuits

Dec 30, 2019

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) is facing several lawsuits from former employees. ThisisReno’s Bob Conrad has been following this issue. He sat down with KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck to break down what the people involved are up against.

A Web of Lawsuits

In 2017, Former Special Education Administrator, Byron Green said he was a victim of bullying by anonymous complaints, after trying to improve the district’s services for students with disabilities. Green was then placed on leave while an outside company was hired to investigate incidents of bullying. Concerned about his treatment, Green hired an attorney, John Moore, to extract internal WCSD emails under Nevada’s Public Record Law. This public record request was unsuccessful, resulting in Green fighting the denial in court.

These complaints led to a settlement meeting between the school district and Moore. At this meeting, allegedly, the school district’s attorney Anthony Hall said Green received leaked confidential information. Hall supposedly told Green to drop his complaints and in return, WCSD would drop the investigation into the leaks. However, Green was fired in 2019, despite the school district agreeing not to take disciplinary action against him. Green’s suit alleges a settlement violation.

Former Administrator, Jenny Hunt, was placed on leave and under investigation with Green. During that time she was fired. She was suing WCSD for discrimination. Both parties recently agreed to dismiss the claims.

Over the summer, WCSD Superintendent Traci Davis was placed on leave and later fired. The school district alleges that she leaked confidential information or knew that it was occurring. Davis denies this charge. In response, Davis’ attorney, Bill Peterson, filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that WCSD fired her improperly.

Another lawsuit targets the school district and Davis. Trina Olsen was the Assistant Principal at Hug High School. She raised concerns about campus safety, lack of student discipline and resources. She filed these formal complaints after witnessing a high school student get shot by school police after brandishing knives. She also reported that she witnessed a Hug employee return cannabis to a student. Davis, who was still superintendent at the time, fired her for making, ‘false claims.’

Olsen was reinstated by an outside arbitrator and started a new position at Wooster High School. The arbitrator said Davis broke the law because she fired Olsen before receiving an arbitration hearing. Nevada law requires the school district to “conduct a hearing in the event that an impasse is declared.” Olsen’s lawsuit is directed at WCSD and Davis for illegally firing her.

A Lack of Transparency

Bob Conrad from ThisisReno has been covering issues surrounding WCSD for several years.

“I don't think [WCSD has] been at all transparent," Conrad said in regards to the lawsuits, "There's been cases where they simply would not answer what I thought to be pretty simple or obvious questions and said, 'No, you need to file a public records request for that.' I filed a request and then they deny that. There's been a couple instances where they've just flat out refused to provide any information. The general argument is that; if you're a taxpayer-funded entity, you should be accountable to taxpayers. There's been a lot of criticism about the school district not following that and being open and transparent about this process.”

Conrad isn’t the only local journalist whose been running into difficulties while covering the school district. In 2018, Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) Education Reporter Siobhan McAndrew requested copies of the report regarding the outside investigation into Green and Hunt while they were on leave. A district representative refused the record request, prompting RGJ to go to court. A District Court judge ordered that WCSD turn over the records.

How Teachers Feel

While administrators battle each other, district teachers are concerned with other issues. WCSD teachers encouraged support for education at a recent rally.

Conrad covered the rally.

“I have been speaking with teachers. I would say that morale is very low in the school district across the board. Although in the case of teachers, their issues seem to be a little more distinct as far as, resources, funding and those kinds of things. There definitely are concerns with the administration and how they interact with the teachers, and the people on the ground doing the education work, out in the schools and in the community. But by and large, I believe their concerns tend to be more about how much they're getting paid or not getting paid," Conrad said.

Conrad said a WCSD board member was told she wasn’t allowed to attend the rally. Conrad said others feel that administrators are not being held accountable.