Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

Murrieta Valley Unified School District, the MVUSD Board of Directors, and a half dozen employees last week ignored or refused to answer questions posed by Valley News in regards to an investigation into the handling of an alleged cover-up at the school five years ago. 

The investigation headed up by Best, Best & Krieger (BBK) is focused on whether members of Vista Murrieta High School’s administrative staff covered-up an alleged report of a racist group chat between students at the school in 2015.

The screenshots that surfaced online were posted by the young woman who said she initially reported the group chat while she was attending the school in 2015. She said that after she reported the chat to her school counselor at the time, at least one other administrator and several friends, she suffered bullying from the boys and the families of the boys involved. 

“I got called crazy and eventually had to switch to online school,” the young woman said. “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

“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.”

In the immediate aftermath of the post, which included the names of several of the then boys that were involved in the group chat, MVUSD Assistant Superintendent Darren Daniel issued a statement in an email sent to MVUSD families by Superintendent Pat Kelly. His son, Taylor, was involved in the chat and also issued an apology. 

“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.”

In Kelley’s email, he announced that the district had hired BBK to head the independent investigation. At the time, Valley News posed a series of questions to the district about the nature of the investigation, since a number of people had indicated that BBK had been used by the district in other case investigations and questioned how independent the firm could be. 

In response, Valley News was contacted by Tom DeLapp, an outside communications professional who indicated he would be fielding questions from the media regarding the incident and the investigation on behalf of the district. 

After responding to a second set of questions posed to the district, Valley News followed up with a third set of questions on Friday, June 19. DeLapp initially responded that he required more time to address the questions and has yet to do so as of Monday, June 29. 

A similar set of questions was sent to all of the members of the MVUSD Board of Education members Oscar Rivas, Kenneth Dickson, Paul Diffley, Kris Thomasian, and board president Linda Lunn. None of the board members has responded as of Monday, June 29. 

Valley News also reached out via email to the investigator heading the investigation on Friday, June 26 to get a better understanding of the investigation’s process.

The reason for attempting to reach the investigator stemmed from reports from people scheduled to be interviewed by her that they were asked not to record the conversation during the interview. The interviewer indicated that the conversations, often facilitated through Zoom calls, would not be recorded by her either. 

Given the mistrust expressed by people familiar with the school and district’s handling of past issues involving staff and students, Valley News wanted to understand why there would be no recordings made of the testimonies. However, no response was offered. 

At Murrieta Valley Unified School District’s June 18 board meeting, MVUSD’s African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) gave a presentation to the board and asked those very same questions. 

“What is the scope of the investigation?” Natalie Hartwell, a member of the leadership team on the district’s AAPAC, asked. “How is the firm deciding who will be contacted? Who will have access to investigative reports? How will investigation findings be reported to staff and community while the investigation is underway?

“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?”

Valley News also posed a series of questions to the leadership team of AAPAC regarding a response, if any, they had received from the district regarding a multitude of issues the group wanted to see resolved at the school and districtwide. 

Marguerite Rucker and Raquel Anthony responded to the series of questions on Sunday night. 

When asked if the group had any further discussions with the district since their presentation, the pair said they had. 

“AAPAC leadership members met with Mr. Kelley, Mrs. Walters, and Mrs. Mutchnix-Jax to discuss our concerns brought up during the board meeting and their progress thus far,” they said. “This will be an ongoing conversation with Patrick Kelley of key initiatives related to AAPAC and the district as a whole.”

Rucker and Anthony said they were told the investigation would be fair and independent. 

“We were also informed that BBK was selected because of their previous experience representing cases related to racial injustice and/or civil rights violations,” they said. 

They offered a little more insight into who would be receiving and reviewing the results of the investigation from BBK. 

“We were told the report would be viewed by the Murrieta Valley Unified School District school board, the Lake Elsinore/Southwest NAACP President, and it was suggested in our AAPAC meeting that the report be shared with (Riverside County of Education) leadership,” the pair said. 

They were also asked whether the district or board responded to any of the requests the group made regarding change within the district, specifically the curriculum changes.

“Yes, we were told that elementary and secondary education has begun to investigate and/or implement curriculum from a multicultural lens,” they said. “It is acknowledged that additional work and/or professional development needs to focus on developing curricular units of study with a black/African-American emphasis.”

So far, there is no timetable given as to when the investigation by BBK will be finished and whether any possible job changes, terminations or resignations resulting from the investigation will be made public in the aftermath. 

The next special board meeting of the MVUSD Board of Education is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, July 17 and will likely be held virtually using Microsoft Teams. For more information on upcoming board meetings, visit www.murrieta.k12.ca.us/Page/36636.

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