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caption: Seattle Public School Superintendent Denise Juneau listens during a public meeting to address concerns about abusive teachers within the Seattle Public School system on Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center at Garfield High School in Seattle.
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Seattle Public School Superintendent Denise Juneau listens during a public meeting to address concerns about abusive teachers within the Seattle Public School system on Thursday, February 13, 2020, at the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center at Garfield High School in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Denise Juneau, Seattle superintendent, to leave district

Denise Juneau, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, announced on Tuesday that she will leave the district in June when her contract expires.

“I will not seek a new contract and will not be serving the district beyond the conclusion of my current contract,” Juneau wrote in a statement.

Juneau came on as Seattle's superintendent in 2018, and will have spent three school years in that role by June 2021. She did not say why she was leaving, but board members have said that it is because she does not feel the support of the board.

The school board was set to vote on Juneau’s contract renewal next week. But board members have been critical of how she has addressed the needs of vulnerable student groups during Covid-19.

In her public statement, Juneau said Seattle Public Schools would need the “full-throated support of a united school board” to move forward.

"I respect her decision," said school board member Lisa Rivera-Smith.

Juneau has repeatedly clashed with the teachers union over her reported failure to involve them in key decisions, especially regarding health and safety issues during the pandemic. The most recent conflict came after Juneau announced on Saturday that she wanted many students back in schools on March 1.

Seattle Education President Jennifer Matter said in a statement that she was “shocked and blindsided” by that announcement, which had not been discussed with the union. It was just the latest conflict between Juneau and the union, which has accused her of using a top-down style that goes against union contracts and ignores the needs and wishes of staff and families.

In her statement, Juneau wrote that she came to Seattle “with a dream to drive a powerful anti-racist agenda for Seattle’s school leaders, educators, parents, and students.”

Juneau's announcement of her departure comes three days after the publication of a story in KUOW about an 8-year-old boy at View Ridge Elementary who was kept in an outdoor enclosure because of his behavioral issues.

The district reprimanded the principal involved in isolating the student, who receives special education services, despite having previously approved of the conditions. The boy was one of few Black students at the predominantly white elementary school.

On Monday, the Special Education PTSA on Monday issued a vote of no-confidence in the school district, in response to the story.

The local NAACP branch and its youth council have been calling for Juneau’s termination for months, citing, among other reasons. the district’s handling of staff who abuse students.

Denise Juneau came to Seattle in 2018 from Montana, after spending eight years as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. She is the first Native American to serve as Seattle Public Schools superintendent.

During her first year with the district, Juneau enacted a five-year strategic plan aimed at closing opportunity gaps for students of color, with a particular emphasis on African American boys.

In her statement, Juneau mentioned this initiative, saying she was proud of changing the system “to better serve African American boys and teens through the Office of African American Male Achievement.”

However, Juneau came under fire shortly after the equity-focused plan was adopted, following her decision to end a partnership between the district and the Urban Native Education Alliance.

Juneau has also been the subject of criticism following a KUOW investigation that revealed several teachers were allowed to remain in the classroom, despite the district's findings of abuse and misconduct toward students.

It is not clear what's next for Juneau. However, the Washington, D.C. based LGBTQ leadership advocacy group Victory Institute announced last week that it intended to put Juneau forward as a nominee for Secretary of Education under the incoming Biden administration, according to NBC.

Read Juneau's full statement on her resignation below:

SEATTLE – It has been the greatest honor of my professional journey to serve Seattle Public Schools students, families, school leaders, educators, and staff.

While the past two and a half years have been extraordinary and deeply fulfilling, I am today announcing that I am leaving Seattle Public Schools. I will not seek a new contract and will not be serving the district beyond the conclusion of my current contract, which finishes at the end of June 2021.

I have embraced the many challenges inherent in leading our school district, and we have made significant progress on many fronts. I came here with a dream to drive a powerful anti-racist agenda for Seattle’s school leaders, educators, parents, and students, and I worked aggressively to build a bold strategic plan focused on a better, fairer system for students of color furthest from educational justice. I’m especially proud of how, together, we have changed our system and structures to better serve African American boys and teens through the Office of African American Male Achievement.

I have been proud to lead and to rely on a community of educators who have taken on the challenge of keeping our students healthy and safe. But the profound suffering caused by the pandemic has caused so many people to experience deep, personal pain – a pain I share and know, having lost my own father to the virus a few weeks ago.

And now, there has never been a more important time for unity and healing. For progress to continue in Seattle, the full-throated support of a united school board is essential. This school board must choose a superintendent with whom they can co-lead and move forward together.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to lead and learn here. I will carry the spirit and lessons of this community and experience with me, and hope that our time spent together has helped strengthen the foundation for the continued growth for all our truly remarkable students.

Denise Juneau

Dec. 8, 2020

Read more about KUOW’s ongoing investigation into abuse at Seattle schools

This is a developing story that will be updated.