South Burlington school board member Travia Childs has called for superintendent David Young to apologize and resign following the end of an investigation into the district’s handling of a racial harassment incident involving her son last spring.
A report on the investigation was distributed to all board members at their Oct. 20 meeting — except Childs. As of press time Tuesday, nearly a week later, Childs said that she still had not received a copy of the report.
While board chair Bridget Burkhardt briefly addressed the report at their meeting last week, and it was listed on the agenda, Childs has been absent from meetings for the last two months, citing a need to care for mental and physical health issues.
“Now I am back and will use my platform to force changes, including your resignation and your live apology for protecting the teacher who racially harassed my son,” Childs wrote to Young in an email over the weekend obtained by The Other Paper.
The school board hired a third-party investigator to inspect the district’s handling of an incident in March, when teacher Stephen Barner joked about hanging an object resembling a noose from the school’s Black Lives Matter flag. One of the seniors in Barner’s classroom when it happened was Childs’ son, who later dropped the class and has since graduated.
The district’s investigation into Barner, a robotics teacher and department head, found that he had violated the district’s policy for the prevention of harassment, hazing and bullying. Barner submitted a letter of resignation during the investigation, then continued teaching for three months before he quietly retired.
“This entire coverup has destroyed our lives and I am ready for it to be over,” Childs wrote to Young. She also noted that she was never informed when the investigation began, and her request of the superintendent to hire a person of color to investigate the district never received a response.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Young said, “My comment with respect to Dr. Childs’ statement is that I took the matter very seriously, took into account all relevant factors, and decided on a disciplinary response in excess of that recommended as appropriate by experienced employment legal counsel because of my perception of the seriousness of the matter. I believe a decision to discharge would have been reversed by an arbitrator at significant and inappropriate expense to the district.”
At the Oct. 20 meeting, Burkhardt explained that the board had received the final report, but that discussion would be tabled since they had no time to review the findings. Her “strong personal preference,” she said, was for both reports — the school’s investigation into Barner and the third-party inspection of the district — to be made “as public as possible.”
On Tuesday, Childs confirmed she still hadn’t seen a copy of the report but that she heard about it from a district parent.
“It just makes you sick to your stomach and I didn’t want to come back. But I have to, because I’m the only person that can save our kids,” Childs said, emotion thick in her voice.
The school board has been revising the district’s equity policy over the last few months, headed up by members Brian Minier and Childs — although Childs hasn’t participated in revisions or discussions during her hiatus.
Minier argued for more reporting of incidents like the one in March. “It needs to start yesterday,” he said.
Burkhardt noted the “interplay” between the district’s policies on equity and for the prevention of harassment, hazing and bullying, in focusing on student outcomes. More reporting of incidents and more trend data needs to be disseminated to the school board, she said.
“I feel like there’s a lack of transparency that’s negating teachable moments and our ability to have hard conversations,” she said.
The school board met with South Burlington City Council for a steering committee meeting Wednesday, Oct. 27. Their next meeting is set for Nov. 3.
The initial incident occurred a week after Travia Childs was elected to the school board. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date.