MONROE — The Monroe school superintendent was placed on administrative leave Saturday as allegations of bullying and worries over his handling of racism in the district has led to calls for his resignation.
Justin Blasko will be subject to an independent investigation. The district will hire a third party to “gather facts about certain situations currently facing the District to help the Board make decisions in an informed manner,” board president Jennifer Bumpus wrote in a message to the community Saturday afternoon. The investigation’s timing is unclear.
In the meantime, Chief Academic Officer Kim Whitworth will serve as acting superintendent, Bumpus wrote.
Board directors met in a closed executive session with Blasko for 2½ hours Friday evening. The meeting adjourned without a vote, or any update on Blasko’s standing.
Monroe Equity Council President Melanie Ryan said Saturday she is pleased the investigation won’t be conducted internally. But she still thinks it’s best if Blasko resigns.
“We hope that he would see that,” she said.
Tension over Blasko’s response to persistent racism in the district’s schools peaked Monday with frustrated parents demanding action at a school board meeting and students walking out of Monroe High School.
Some parents urged Blasko be fired or resign. They argued he hasn’t adequately responded to harassment and bullying of students. An online petition calling for Blasko’s removal had over 1,300 signatures Friday evening.
And Ryan told directors that employees had reported being yelled at, threatened and called cruel names by Blasko. Those employees told equity council leaders they feared losing their jobs if they spoke out.
“There has been longstanding harm and hurt and grief and pain,” she told The Daily Herald.
On Wednesday, Bumpus said in a statement that the board would be investigating those allegations.
“The school board takes all reports of harassment, intimidation, bullying, racism, and discrimination very seriously, whether they are from staff or students,” Bumpus said.
The Monroe Education Association last week issued a vote of no confidence in Blasko. Union president Robin Hayashi told board directors that the superintendent “has refused to take action to improve the culture and climate in our schools.”
Racist incidents in Monroe schools drew renewed public attention last month. Among other cases, a viral video circulated on social media showing a white student repeatedly saying a racial slur in a confrontation with a Black student in the Monroe High School parking lot.
The mother of the targeted student told The Herald that Blasko should resign.
Meanwhile, the district has dealt in the past couple months with reports of threats of violence to its campuses, racist graffiti on a school building, a principal put on a brief but controversial administrative leave and a school psychologist charged with sending sexual texts to minors.
Blasko has held the district’s top job since February 2020. He arrived in 2010 as executive director of human resources. He earned a superintendent credential in 2009 and a doctorate in education after hiring on with the district. In 2016, he was named assistant superintendent of learning and teaching.
His contract has also been a subject of scrutiny.
Last summer, the board approved a three-year contract with Blasko, effective through June 30, 2024, to replace his original three-year contract. Then, on Nov. 22, the outgoing board approved a change to the contract extending it to June 30, 2025. Some speakers Monday asserted that violated district policy and state law.
He makes almost $250,000 per year. He will continue to be paid during the leave, district spokesperson Tamara Krache said in an email.
The legal notice scheduling Friday’s special board meeting was sent at 5:01 p.m. Thursday.