Arizona Attorney General: Litchfield School District’s Diversity Empowerment Committee Violated Open Meeting Law

By Corinne Murdock

The Arizona attorney general’s office found that Litchfield Elementary School District (LESD) violated open meeting law through its Diversity Empowerment Team (DET). In some reporting, social media posts, and even LESD communications and internal documents, the DET was referred to as the “Diversity Empowerment Committee,” or “DEC.”

Deputy Solicitor General Michael Catlett wrote the letter notifying LESD of their violations. For violating open meeting law with the DET, Catlett determined that there wouldn’t be any repercussions, but it would serve to inform the attorney general’s response to any further open meetings violations. LESD was also found in violation of open meeting law for allowing and defending the behavior of one board member, Kimberly Moran, when she interrupted public commentary critical of LESD’s equity statement with a sign that read, “Not True.” Catlett informed LESD that Moran would be required to undergo further training for this violation.

Catlett said that the DET qualifies as a public body, despite insistence from LESD that it didn’t. Information about the DET wasn’t made publicly available through LESD.

“Few government responsibilities are more important than the education of children and the issue of how to education children about discrimination and race is important and complex,” wrote Catlett. “Parents and other community members should be given significant opportunity for input on school curriculum or policies that have any possibility of being viewed as ‘characteriz[ing] the United States as irredeemably racist or founded on principles of racism (as opposed to principles of equality) or that purport to ascribe character traits, values, privileges, status, or beliefs, or that assign fault, blame, or bias, to a particular race or to an individual because of his or her race.’”

LESD’s equity statement was also a product of the DET. In addition to a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the equity statement announced that LESD pledged to antiracism.

Parents and community members also weren’t privy to DET members’ identities. In fact, the team wasn’t mentioned on LESD’s website at all. However, some parents did manage to learn the identities of DET members.

AZ Free News learned that DET members were parents Latrice Gettings, Tamillia Valuenzela, Kamaria McDonald; Palm Valley Elementary School special education teacher Brittany Austin; curriculum administrative assistant Eva Aguila; Verrado Heritage Elementary School behavior coach Grizellie Hedges; Litchfield Elementary School behavior coach Heather Maxwell; Mabel Padgett teacher Anthony Munoz; student transporter Jocelyn Zvosechz; Palm Valley Elementary School principal Jen Benjamin; Wigwam Creek Middle School assistant principal Kacie McQuarrie; Verrado Heritage Elementary School principal Meredith Noce; and LESD Title One director John Scudder.

Only one LESD governing board member was on the DET: Moran.

The parents chosen for DET have publicly shown their support for nearly all social justice beliefs, including: critical race theory, Black Lives Matter (BLM), anti-racism, transgenderism, LGBTQ+ lifestyles, ICE abolishment, and DACA continuance.

It also appears through a public post by McDonald that DET has a private Facebook page.

In addition to the DET issue, the attorney general’s office addressed the behavior of Moran at length. During LESD’s April 13 board meeting, Moran disrupted public comments criticizing the board’s equity statement by holding up a sign that read, “Not True[.]”

LESD defended Moran’s behavior, arguing that open meeting law allows board members to respond to public commentary. The attorney general’s office disagreed. They stated that the full text of the law allows board members to respond at the end of public commentary, not during. Catlett wrote that Moran’s behavior was “extremely concerning,” considering she’d just undergone open meeting law training.

“Ms. Moran’s actions violating the Open Meeting Law immediately following Open Meeting Law training are extremely concerning,” wrote Catlett. “Thus, the Office will require that Ms. Moran re-take the training received by the board during the April 13 meeting.”

The DET also had an Outside Facilitator named Amber Checky, the CEO and Founder of Inclusion Counts – a diversity training and consultation business.

Checky and the other DET members earned the ire of parents over the summer for their involvement in DET’s plans for increasing equity at LESD. These plans were published by Young America’s Foundation (YAF). The “Litchfield Elementary School District Transformational Equity Work” explained that the DEC (DET) created the following equity goals:

·        Reduce disproportionality in discipline for Black students;

·        Reduce disproportionality in achievement for Black and Hispanic students;

·        Increase professional development for LESD staff on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism;

·        Develop a diverse and inclusive curriculum by:

·        Auditing existing curriculum materials for bias to ensure multicultural perspectives;

·        Acquiring multicultural inclusive curriculum materials;

·        Ensuring teachers have cultural competence: clarity, knowledge, and agency to adapt, modify, or enhance curriculum to bring cultural awareness and diverse voices and perspectives into curriculum;

·        Recruit and retain culturally competent and diverse administrators, faculty, and staff (diversity refers to race, ethnicity, gender identity, faith, ability, sexual orientation, appearance, socioeconomic class, age, and life experience).

According to the internal document, these DEC (DET) goals were the primary focus of the 2021-22 school year.

Parents objected to Checky as an outside consultant – partly because of her beliefs, and partly because they didn’t get a say in the makeup of DET. Checky and her wife, Inclusion Counts CFO and Co-Founder Heather Checky, raise their daughter as a son. This is public knowledge: Checky’s foster daughter is widely publicized. The Checkys interviewed with several news outlets in 2019 about their daughter, claiming a summer camp refused her entry because of her transgenderism.

LESD Superintendent Jodi Gunning rebuked parents for taking issue with Checky and the DET. Gunning offered a veiled threat that law enforcement would intervene if parents continued to identify and criticize members of the DET.

“It has come to my attention that the names of our staff members and volunteers who served on the Diversity Empowerment Committee (DET), as well as screen shots from their personal Facebook pages, have been posted to social media as individuals to ‘get to know.’ This even included personal information about someone’s partner and child,” wrote Gunning. “Litchfield Elementary School District denounces any attempts to intimidate or threaten. We strongly oppose personal attacks and fear tactics by anyone attempting to persuade the professional business of our public institution. We are working closely with law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of all of our stakeholders.”

The family that Gunning referenced was the Checkys.

As of press time, LESD hasn’t updated its website with public information about the DET.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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