Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

During the Thursday, Aug. 27 special meeting of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board of Education, investigators will report on the results of an investigation into a group chat involving students at Vista Murieta High School in 2015.

The report, which will be presented publicly to the board during the virtual meeting that begins at 5 p.m., will be presented by the law firm, Best Best & Kreiger, and will include input provided by members of the community.

Screenshots of group chat between students – allegedly taking place during their time as students at Vista Murrieta High School – surfaced recently on social media causing an uproar because of the racist nature of the conversation.

The screenshots, shared on social media in early June, showed at least four boys involved in a conversation that includes several images and statements that are racist in nature. Along with the screenshots, the young woman indicated that at the time, she brought her concerns to school officials but got nowhere.

“I showed these messages to people as I didn’t know what to do and immediately received threats from the people in the group chat and their parents,” she said. “I got called crazy and eventually had to switch to online school. 

“And when I tried to out them, they covered it up and silenced me. The BBC (Bronco Bleacher Creatures) advisor and football coaches at Vista Murrieta High School played a part in covering it up when it began to spread,” she said. “VMHS itself is disgusting for how they handled this. I know exactly all the people who supported them through this. And don’t think I’m afraid to name names. I was torn to shreds for trying to bring this to light and all the supporters of these racists who defended them and stood by them deserve as much backlash.”

When reached for a statement,  Monica Gutierrez, Public Information Officer for MVUSD, issued a statement Friday, June 5.

“The school district is taking this situation very seriously,” she said. “We are using an independent investigator from Best, Best & Krieger (BBK), a respected law firm with a long track record in dealing with racial injustice and hate speech. We have asked that BBK finds out whether individual staff members were informed about these posts at the time and how they handled the situation.

On the evening of June 5, MVUSD distributed an email to district stakeholders and in it, Superintendent Patrick Kelley made a statement. 

“Earlier this week, I wrote to you all sharing my thoughts on the recent state of our nation and race relations in our community,” Kelley wrote. “Today, I am once again writing about race relations and an issue that came to my attention yesterday.

“Screenshots of a group chat between former VMHS students surfaced on social media. I am shocked by these posts. The content of these texts and the heinous images they portrayed are reprehensible and disturbing. They absolutely do not reflect the values of our school district.”

Taylor Daniel a former student at VMHS, was identified as one of the people involved in the group chat by MVUSD in the email distributed to district parents. Daniel is the son of current MVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Darren Daniel, who also issued a statement. 

“I am in absolute disbelief about this post,” Darren Daniel said in the email. “Apparently, this was done while he was in high school and my wife and I just learned of this today. My heart is broken. We are ashamed as a family and sad about the destructive and dehumanizing message by our son. The emotion elicited by these images is overwhelming and I am so sorry you and others were subjected to this by him. This behavior is inexcusable, and I am at a loss for words as we do not condone these ideals. I am ashamed, embarrassed, and confused about this. There are no words to even attempt to minimize the enormity of racially charged communication and I sincerely apologize.”

The distributed email also included a statement of regret by Taylor Daniel. 

At Murrieta Valley Unified School District’s June 18 board meeting, the African American Parent Advisory Council called for the resignation of Darren Daniel and other staff members involved in the alleged cover-up. 

“We are not asking for discipline to be handed down due to the shameful behaviors of the children involved,” APAAC spokesperson Natalee Hartwell said. “The administrators and staff members involved were complicit in the cover-up of said behavior. And it is for that reason that we ask that they resign.

“How can a key personnel member oversee human resources where policy, practices, hiring, and firing of employees takes place? If he wasn’t made aware and his subordinates covered up something without his knowledge that speaks to his lack of leadership. If he did know, he was complicit in the cover-up and needs to resign. We in no way believe that he did not know his son was capable of such hatred. He learned it at home. We also don’t believe that he was not made aware of the posts, his son’s views reflect his father’s. These are taught behaviors and views. You were not born a racist. It is learned behavior.”

Hartwell also questioned the use of BB&K for the investigation. 

“There is a level of mistrust of the investigation in terms of who hired the law firm,” Hartwell said. “Why did the district hire Best, Best & Krieger? Does anyone in the investigation team have a social or personal relationship with key Murrieta Valley Unified School District personnel related to this matter? Is the law firm contacting every staff member who was employed at the VMHS during the time of the online racist, rants, and derogatory images?”

Hartwell said the group had concerns about the investigation being mishandled. 

“There are concerns over people tainting, interfering, being involved, including during the investigation,” she said. “Acts of collusion and history of cover-up within the MVUSD — who knew what and when? Was it covered up? As a parent with a child on the Vista Murrieta High School campus who has already experienced racism, I want to know when staff members became aware of the online racially charged messages. The level of microaggressions and implicit racism has never been identified or addressed. 

“There is a cancer cluster at Vista Murrieta High School, and it creates a hostile work environment where staff and students will not report or voice concerns.”

During a special board meeting on Wednesday, July 29, the board of education heard a presentation regarding a district position that was created earlier in the month. Tamara Dewey is now serving as Coordinator of Student Support: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion.

“I am very excited to take on this new role and bring a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion to everything we do as a district in order to close the achievement gap and ensure success for all of our students,” Dewey said during the virtual meeting. 

The link to listen in on Thursday’s meeting is available at https://www.murrieta.k12.ca.us/Page/36636 and members of the community wishing to make a statement during the public comment section of the board meeting must submit written comment by 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27 to Julie Diaz at jadiaz@murrieta.k12.ca.us.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com