By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"My Spanish teacher, he told me that something was going on. I asked around. Come to find out, teachers were changing grades," says Kevin Williams, who was supposed to be salutatorian. "A detective from DISD was supposed to do some work on it. They found out, true, they had changed grades."
That detective was Graham. She reported the grade changing to Vasquez and was astounded at the result. Administrators didn't fix the problem or take disciplinary action. Vasquez first did nothing and then pulled her off of the case, Graham says.
"I wasn't going to stop saying that the principal and those teachers were supposed to be disciplined, because they screwed these kids out of what was rightfully theirs," she says.
Although Williams and the real valedictorian were identified correctly in subsequent official paperwork, Graham's refusal to change the report to protect the lie rubbed Vasquez the wrong way, she claims. No matter how she felt about Vasquez, a lie is a lie and she would not go along, she says.
"Changing for grammar in a report, checking for spelling and grammar areas, that's fine, but when you want to change my findings, then you are talking about the content of my character--that I lied or didn't go out and do my job."
Once the investigation was over and Graham had taken her stand, she found herself as one of the outsiders at the department. She started learning why some co-workers were complaining about Vasquez.
"Now, I'm being weeded out," she says. "I'm getting constantly called into the office...My cases started dwindling down."
She was pulled off of investigations. She was moved out of her office without being given a reason and told to sit with the dispatchers, and she was given no work.
"I'm getting paid basically to do nothing," she says. "I just sit there."
Those who were in Vasquez's good graces started looking for fault in Graham. Last fall, when Graham was talking to fellow employees in a parking lot, she was accused of "having a meeting," something akin to union organizing. As is typical in the way the department has handled questions of conduct, Graham says, no one bothered to try to learn the truth before leveling formal charges. In that instance, she was vindicated, she says.
"Again, I apologize for bringing an allegation to your attention," Graham's supervisor, C.W. Burress, wrote to Graham, "without first verifying the facts of the allegation."
Graham started filing grievances against Vasquez and then the far more serious complaints of racism with the EEOC. The in-house complaints have mostly been a waste of time, she says.
Roberts says that all complaints are handled in a structured way that provides fair and objective consideration. And, she says, if an employee is dissatisfied with a complaint, then he or she can appeal it all the way to the school board.
The federal complaints, which allege Graham was stripped of her job because she is a black woman, could take years to process while she tries to stay out of trouble. "I get harassed constantly. They watch where I go," Graham says. "If I go to the left, someone's watching me. If I go across the street, someone is watching me."
In the meantime, Vasquez has plowed ahead with plans for his new department, which appear to be a move toward hard-nosed tactics that Graham and others try to avoid.
"I only became a police officer so I can better show my neighborhood this is how the police are supposed to conduct themselves," Graham says. "It was only to educate and elevate the minds of African-American kids in West Dallas."
Armed police are needed, the literature says, because "a significant number of incidents are occurring off-campus after dismissal or adjacent to the campus after athletic events." School security gets to confrontations first most of the time, and security officers are in danger. (Security officers don't have authority to arrest, restrain or transport offenders.) Typically, once a school has its own police department, the school's own officers patrol halls, parking lots and the cafeteria--something critics complain makes a school resemble a prison.
During the first five years of the plan, Vasquez will eliminate some existing jobs while building a commissioned staff of police and patrol officers, detectives and campus police with authority similar to city police. Vasquez told the school board that his proposal is in line with what other districts around the state and country are doing, and that it would help protect students.
"Dallas ISD must join an ever-increasing list of statewide school districts successfully taking this step to improve the safety of students," the literature says.
As part of Vasquez's plan, the school district will end a $1 million contract that put about 30 Dallas police officers in schools or on school-related assignments. The Vasquez plan calls for replacing those officers with the district's own armed, commissioned and uniformed officers at a cost to the district of about $1.5 million more per year.