Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

Murrieta Unified School District announced last week that two members of Vista Murrieta High School’s administrative department have been transferred away from the school for the 2020-2021 school year.

The school’s administration is at the center of an investigation into whether a report by a student to staff in 2015 about a racist group chat involving fellow students and athletes at the school was covered up. 

On June 16, MVUSD Superintendent Patrick Kelley confirmed in an email to school staff members that the district was expanding the investigation and invited staff members to participate in the investigation. 

“Since the investigation started, the district has learned of other concerns regarding how instances of alleged racial discrimination and harassment may have been handled at VMHS,” Kelley wrote in the email. “As such, the district has authorized the BBK (Best, Best & Krieger) investigative team to expand the scope of the investigation to include any alleged incidents of racial discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying at VMHS over the past five years, and how those were addressed.”

Kelley said in the email that the district “intends to release the investigation report publicly once it is completed,” and insisted that the names of people who speak with investigators will not be used in the public report. 

According to Tom Delapp, a communications professional hired by the district after the story broke, the district will review the findings with the help of the NAACP, and Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, once the investigation has concluded. 

So far, there is no indication of when the investigation will be completed and how the results will be distributed to the public or whether the district will share the findings with the media. 

Valley News also requested to interview Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Judy White, about the investigation and to find out whether the superintendent would be involved in reviewing the results, but a spokesperson for the Riverside County Office of Education denied the request by referring Valley News back to MVUSD.   

Last week, the district announced that two key members of the VMHS administrative team were being transferred away from the school into new roles. Valley News is omitting the names of these employees as not to insinuate their involvement in the investigation into wrongdoings — although several staff members have told Valley News that they are key figures involved in some of the allegations. 

DeLapp responded to questions posed to the district regarding the announcement. 

“At the end of each school year, the superintendent has an obligation to evaluate the district and individual school needs,” he said in an email. “This process involves matching administrators with specific skill sets to fill the needs and goals of the district. Once assignments are determined, announcements are made every summer, notifying staff and the community of these changes.”

Valley News asked directly about the transfer of the school’s Deputy Principal: “Is this move triggered by the current investigation into the alleged racist group chat coverup?”

“This summer (omitted) has been assigned to the Educational Services Division as an Administrator on Special Assignment,” DeLapp said. “This is a lateral assignment, not a promotion. On special assignment, (omitted) will be serving in a coordinator capacity assisting with working through challenges associated with re-opening schools during a pandemic.”

The school’s Assistant Principal/Dean of Students has also been transferred to another school for the upcoming school year. 

In the same announcement, the district announced that two new assistant principals will be joining the school in the fall — Mike Duran, who previously served as Dean of Students at Warm Springs Middle School and Scott Richards, an assistant principal at Murrieta Mesa High School this past school year, who was recently named Assistant Principal of the Year for the district. 

The district also announced that a new role has been created within the district and filled from within. The district added that no additional positions were added to the overall number of employees at the district level. 

“Tamara Dewey has been named the Coordinator of Student Support: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion,” DeLapp said in the email response. “Her primary responsibility will be to support and advance a district-wide culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

“Duties include, but are not limited creating short and long term equity plans based on school level needs and/or overall district goals and objectives; collaborate with all districts departments in identifying existing barriers and strategies to assure a diverse and culturally proficient workforce; in-service trainings and community activities related to equity and cultural proficiency programs; coordinate transformation team; and provide direct response to parent and student reports related to race and equity issues.”

It was unclear whether the position was created as a response to the allegations and subsequent investigation. 

Valley News has received information from roughly a dozen current and former staff members at VMHS since we broke the story back in early June, many of which have refused to go on record while the investigation continues. 

Questions about the investigation into the alleged cover-up and requests for interviews posed to the MVUSD Board of Directors, and a half dozen district employees have been ignored thus far. 

The racist group chat 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.”

However, at MVUSD’s June 18 board meeting, Natalee Hartwell, speaking on behalf of the district’s African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) group, asked for Daniel, and any other administrator or staff member involved in the cover-up, to resign. 

“Acts of collusion and history of cover-up within the MVUSD — who knew what and when?” Hartwell asked. “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.”

Hartwell said the district needs to “break to the cycle of delusions,” saying that either they don’t know what’s happening at the school or they didn’t know it was as bad as it is.

“VMHS and MVUSD staff members who were found to have had knowledge of the racial social media posts should resign or lose their positions,” Hartwell said. “We are not asking for discipline to be handed down due to the shameful behaviors of the children involved. 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.”

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