By Terri Jo Neff
An insulting comment emailed from the principal of a Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) elementary school to another employee in which she called some parents “whackos” and criticized the district board’s handling of a meeting has been called out by a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Diane Douglas called on PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds to publicly address “the overt and covert contempt which has been and continues to be expressed towards the community” by Tonja Neve, who is principal of the Desert Valley Elementary School in Glendale until June 30.
“That board meeting was ridiculous,” Neve wrote on Feb. 1 to Jennifer Mundy, an administrator of another district school. “”I’m sick of us giving these whackos a platform to spread propaganda without making any correction statements.” Neve was referring to about one dozen parents who addressed the board about Critical Race Theory.
Another email between Neve and Mundy that day shows the principal believed the administration “has some control to quiet those pushy voices.” She also provided information about a court case which reinforced the power of principals to set boundaries in parent-school communication.
Douglas directed her comments at Reynolds in an opinion published last week in the American Daily Independent. But she was not merely relying on her experience from 2015 to 2018 in a state executive office where she was responsible for ensuring the accurate and lawful distribution of nearly $6 billion in education funding.
In her comments, Douglas points out she has an even bigger reason for speaking up, having been elected as a member of the PUSD board from 2005 to 2012, serving as board president in 2008 and 2009.
Douglas’ letter was prompted by PUSD’s release of some of Neve’s emails in response to a public records request. There was also the fact the school’s American flag was displayed inverted on June 14 – Flag Day.
“As if an employee of a government school, funded by taxpayer dollars, referring to the parents and citizens who pay her salary as ‘whackos’ was not bad enough, now there is the displaying of an inverted American flag,” Douglas noted to Reynolds. “Such utter disrespect to our country and the very citizens she is hired to serve would be disgraceful on any day. But that such a stunt occurred on June 14th Flag Day –the day we honor and commemorate the adoption of the American Flag– makes it all the more inexcusable and unforgivable.”
Douglas added that “the only saving grace is that school is out of session and the students weren’t witness to such blatant disrespect of our flag by an entity of the very government it represents.”
Neve’s contract with PUSD expires June 30 after which she will move her family to take a principal position at an elementary school in New Hampshire. Earlier this month she issued a statement about her emails.
“My comments were unprofessional and I apologize for that,” Neve said. “My comments were in regards to audience members who were coming to our board and calling teachers out by name and misconstruing and devaluing the hard work they do. My comment was made in the heat of the moment and in defense of my profession and colleagues.”
But Neve’s departure should not be the end of issue, Douglas told Reynolds.
“With all due respect, in my humble opinion, the Board and the PUSD community are entitled to an explanation as to how administration intends to handle such incidents of disrespect toward the community going forward,” she wrote.