Firing at Garfield stems from nonexistent class for hoop star
A Seattle Public Schools investigation found that two standout athletes were given passing grades for Spanish despite not doing any work.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Basketball star Tony Wroten Jr. sat in his second-year Spanish class at Garfield High School earlier this year and sent out a curious message.
"just me and my 2 bros," he posted on his Twitter page in January. "we got a 3 person Spanish class. #Niccceeee."
Wroten, the University of Washington's top recruit, found himself in the tiny remedial class after an investigation showed that the Garfield athletic director in 2010 had given him and another star athlete passing grades in a Spanish class that never existed.
Wroten needed the remedial class because otherwise he wouldn't be able to earn two years of foreign-language credits needed to get into UW.
The incident led to athletic director Jim Valiere's April 11 firing, according to a report of the Seattle Public Schools investigation.
Wroten and the other student, Valentino Coleman, told an investigator that last year Valiere did little more than occasionally quiz them in the hallway.
Wroten has been regarded as one of the top prospects in the country since his freshman year at Garfield and has developed into a player some say could be ready for the NBA in 2012.
Garfield principal Ted Howard created the tiny, district-approved class for the athlete and other students in the already overcrowded school last fall, employing a substitute teacher.
"I felt like we owed those kids and parents credit and also an education," he said.
If Wroten passes his final semester of Spanish this school year, the situation will not affect his UW eligibility, school officials said.
Tony Wroten Sr., reached by phone last week, said his son did nothing wrong.
In firing the athletic director, the district said that Valiere also allowed six ineligible football players to play in a game, gave "secret waivers" for athletic fees to 19 students and misled league and state sports administrators.
Valiere denied he did anything wrong. "The investigation they had going was just to find more dirt to try and bury me," he said.
Request from parents
Valiere has known Tony Wroten Jr. since the basketball star was in second grade. He told The Seattle Times that Wroten's and Coleman's parents asked him to help their children, who had struggled in Spanish. Valiere has a teaching certificate with an endorsement to teach Spanish.
Valiere said he told the parents he was busy but "would be willing to do an independent study" if principal Howard approved.
Valiere and Garfield basketball coach Ed Haskins met with Howard in January 2010 to ask if Wroten could repeat first-year Spanish in a course taught by Valiere, the report said.
Wroten needed the makeup work because he received a D in the second semester of first-year Spanish; that's a passing grade, but a student must get a C or better to move on to a second-year class at Garfield, according to the report. (Student names were redacted in records released by the district, but Wroten's tweet, as well as numerous interviews, led to the athletes' identities.)
Howard said he did not authorize the athletic director to teach a spring-semester Spanish class.
Valiere said Spanish showed up on his spring course schedule as a seventh-period class with the two students anyway. "I was just going with it," he said.
Howard said he didn't know how the class was added, and the report doesn't address it.
Wroten couldn't have attended the class, which was after the regular school day. He left school grounds after sixth period each day for rehabilitation of a knee injury, the investigation found.
Valiere told an investigator he met with Wroten and Coleman once a week in independent study.
But the students told the investigator they did no course work, did not use a textbook and did not have classes. Valiere gave both student-athletes C grades.
Howard denied ever authorizing Valiere to teach an independent-study Spanish class.
"That is totally bogus, because we don't even do independent study," Howard said. "I refused to sign off on that."
What summer class?
Howard did approve Valiere to teach the second half of first-year Spanish to Wroten in summer 2010, the report said.
Valiere gave Wroten grades for tests on June 24 and 28, records show. However, Wroten was out of town both days, preparing for the Under-17 World Championships with Team USA.
Wroten told the investigator he did no course work. He spent the early portion of that summer in Germany, playing basketball.
Valiere said the two June grades were for work Wroten had done in the spring.
Told that the principal believed Valiere was teaching Wroten that summer, the athletic director replied: "That is a boldfaced lie. That is a total lie. We never, ever talked about teaching in the summer, ever."
On Sept. 8, Valiere submitted a grade-change form for a Spanish class for Wroten, the report said. Two weeks later, the grade change was approved by Howard and a counselor.
Valiere was trying to add a grade for a summer course that never existed, the district said in his termination letter.
Valiere said he was trying only to correct a mistake after assigning an earlier grade to the wrong Spanish course.
When school officials later learned of the bogus Spanish classes, Howard said, the grades were taken away "because, quite frankly, the kids didn't earn the credit."
All along, Wroten's and Coleman's parents thought the students were being tutored by the athletic director, not taking classes for credit, they told the investigator.
Early in his senior year, Wroten told Howard he needed to be enrolled in second-year Spanish, the report said, because he needed a second year of foreign-language credits to be admitted at the UW.
"Now the question that became a really big issue at Garfield was: How were the kids going to get the credit and not be penalized?" Howard said.
More than a month into the school year, he created a tiny, remedial second-year Spanish class designed to give students extra help. Wroten was enrolled in the class, despite his D grade in first-year Spanish. He passed the first semester, according to a source who has seen the grade but is not allowed to discuss it.
University of Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar said last week he was not aware of the investigation.
Valiere was placed on administrative leave in October, as the district looked into how he was running the high school's athletic programs. Garfield students did without an athletic director or activities coordinator for most of the school year.
Valiere has requested a hearing to dispute his firing.
"I was really trying to teach them Spanish," he said. "I really wanted them to learn."
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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