PORTLAND, Ore. -- Students at the Metropolitan Learning Center in Portland are getting a lesson in Race 101.
Parents are accusing the school's principal of creating a toxic environment. KATU On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano has learned there are also accusations that some parents are being racist toward the principal.
Bruce Scherer has two kids who attend the MLC, a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader, and explains his assessment of how the school has operated in the nine years he's been a parent there.
"Teachers, parents and students were all considered equivalent stakeholders in how the school should be run. Teachers checked in with parents on a regular basis to see how things were going," said Scherer.
But he and other parents are concerned about the changes they've observed since the arrival of Principal Macarre Traynham. Scherer claims those core ideas have been betrayed.
Scherer and other parents filed a complaint to the district accusing Traynham of:
- Contemptuous interactions and bad communications with parents.
- Targeting senior staff members for reprimands and intimidation.
- Retaliating against staff members she perceives as challenging her by pressuring them to leave the school and/or giving them bad, biased evaluations.
- Implying or stating that staff or parents who ask policy or leadership questions of her are racist for merely asking a question.
- Separating people by skin color, for instance staff members she perceives as challenging her, but are also of color, she describes in phrases like "assimilated."
- Actively excluding special education students from admission to the school because of their special education status.
- Lying to parents and students.
The complaint also points to academic changes made under Traynham's leadership and the rising number of students not meeting expectations on standardized tests since she arrived.
A civil rights investigator hired by the district produced a report based on interviews with school parents, staff and administrators.
In it, Traynham said she refuses to interview for her job over and over again and doesn't believe it is OK for parents to "badger her." She also said she's "not hostile." She admits she's gotten emotional "but not to the level of anger."
The report concludes, "Some parents have an unfounded sense of entitlement and feel they can dictate how to run the school." It also concludes their "overtly challenging and rude interactions toward Traynham "have a basis in racial bias."
Superintendent Carole Smith followed that up with a letter to the MLC learning community supporting Traynham.
She writes, in part, "This conflict is about more than just change. It is about the experience of your school community with a strong leader who is also a person of color."
Not everyone's taken issue with Traynham. Several parents showed up at a Portland Public Schools' board meeting to demonstrate their support for her too.
A woman introducing herself as Ayana Horn, MLC Parent Volunteer of the Year, told board members, "Principal Traynham, specifically, is the right administrator at this time for our school."
Scherer's disappointment in the district's response is palpable.
"That felt like a gut punch to a lot of us. This felt like political posturing more than seeking out information," said Scherer.
Scherer and the parents who side with him say they've never wanted principal Traynham fired. They're still very concerned about the academic changes and falling test scores since she took the helm.
Those issues are not addressed in the report produced by the civil rights investigator.
Neither the district nor the principal wanted to comment on camera for KATU's report.