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caption: Panther Lake Elementary in the Kent School District. 
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Panther Lake Elementary in the Kent School District.

Kent teacher tweeted racist, bigoted messages and was allowed to stay in the district

UPDATE: Kent School District has reassigned teacher Rafaela Kayryakoff to a non school-based position. Read about that here.

Things did not feel right in teacher Rafaela Kayryakoff’s first-grade classroom at Meridian Elementary School in Kent.

She yelled at the children, according to staff letters to the district from last year, and KUOW interviews, and called kids names: “Slow poke.” “Baby.” “Snail.” “Messy.”

Once, a classroom visitor found a boy cowering in a cupboard. “My teacher hates me,” the visitor recalled the boy saying.

[Read KUOW's investigation, "Seattle Schools knew these teachers abused kids — and let them keep teaching."]

One day last spring, a suspicious parent googled Kayryakoff’s name. Up popped her Twitter account – and a year’s worth of tweets that left a colleague who read them “shocked” – but somehow also not surprised, because of the way she treated the children.”

One of Kayryakoff’s tweets called Mexicans one of the “ridiculous immature vile cruel and extremely evil cultures that need to be genocided!”

Another called Mormonism “an illegally recognized religion that is covertly operating for the Muslim nation.”

“Jews dont belong in Christian countries what do they not understand?” read one tweet. “I only associate with dignified Christian people & more so focus on white Christian people We are the success in the world!” she tweeted on another occasion.

Kayryakoff did not respond to interview requests for this story.

According to notes from a Kent School District investigation, Kayryakoff admitted writing many of the tweets, including statements about Mexicans, Jews, and Mormons, but said she did not mean for them to be derogatory. Kayryakoff said she “can’t attest to” having written all of the tweets, and that family members could have written some of them, according to district notes.

The parent’s internet search also turned up evidence of a troubled past. Kayryakoff had been denied a teaching certificate in California in 2014 “as a result of misconduct,” for two misdemeanor battery convictions against adults in 2003 and 2005. Under California law, that was two violent convictions too many for a teacher.

When Kayryakoff applied for a teaching license in Washington state, her name came up on NASDTEC, a nationwide database of teachers that have faced denials, suspensions or revocations of teaching credentials. Kayryakoff was still granted a license in this state in 2018, however, because her battery convictions were not disqualifying under Washington law.

After getting her license, she taught first grade in Kent that fall.

When a concerned staff member at Kayryakoff’s school took the bigoted tweets and past licensing issue to the school principal, records show, the principal notified the district.

Kent School District spokesperson Melissa Laramie declined requests for an interview. “The Kent School District does not discuss personnel matters,” Laramie responded in an email. “Matters involving employees, especially those involving discipline or accusations of wrongdoing, are rarely simple,” she wrote.

Notes from the district investigation said that Kayryakoff claimed that both battery convictions came after she was attacked by strangers in separate incidents.

The district found that Kayryakoff had not disclosed her past convictions and license denial from California on her Kent job application, but had discussed the issues with human resources after she was hired. Kent could have learned before hiring Kayryakoff of her past license denial in California due to misconduct from the NASDTEC discipline clearinghouse.

In Washington state, no districts subscribe to the discipline database, although the state education department reviews it before granting credentials.

Kayryakoff received a letter of warning from the district for the tweets, which, officials said, violated its race and equity policy and social media guidelines.

“Your actions resulted in staff and parents stating that they no longer feel safe in their building,” the letter read, and said that a parent kept their child home “until your removal due to his belief that you were a threat to their student’s safety.”

Kayryakoff was then required to complete an online training module about implicit bias. She was then moved to a roving P.E. teacher position, and assigned to a different Kent school, Panther Lake Elementary, last fall, where she currently teaches.