A local parent and Army soldier has filed an amended grievance with the Killeen school district after receiving a letter of reprimand from her chain of command following speaking at a public forum during a school board meeting in June.
On June 16, Mikhail Gray, a staff sergeant who is an Army recruiter in the area, and her spouse Kayren Gray spoke during a public forum at the Killeen Independent School District meeting. Mikhail Gray was asking school board members if they had received an email she sent to them because she had not received responses from six of the seven board members.
Nancy Duran, the district’s chief college, career, and military readiness officer, contacted Mikhail Gray’s chain of command about her comments and that led to the letter of reprimand that she received from her Army supervisors, according to Kayren Gray.
Kayren Gray said this week that an appeal and an amended grievance were both filed with KISD, and she and her spouse are awaiting a response from the district.
The initial grievance, filed Sept. 28, was denied by KISD because it was not filed within 15 days of the incident that took place on June 16.
The amended grievance was filed because of new information that was found with the help of a public information request, according to Kayren Gray.
The information request, which was also obtained by the Herald, revealed emails between Army recruiters, and Taina Maya, the spokeswoman for KISD.
An email from the Army recruiter to Jean Shine, the Killeen-Fort Hood area civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, about Mikhail Gray said, “Just to keep you in the loop, but SSG Mikhail Gray is not to speak with any KISD, educators, teachers, TEA representatives whatsoever from now until she PCS’s.” PCS refers to permanent change of station, an Army term for when a soldier moves to a new duty station.
On June 30, Shine forwarded the email to Duran who then sent the email to Maya saying, “FYI - Jean Shine sent this message to me this morning.”
Maya responded with “should I share with Dr. Craft or Jj?” referring to KISD Superintendent John Craft and JJ Johnson, KISD’s director of operations. “Or do you want to see if she disobeys and comes to their meeting?”
Duran responded to Maya and said, “I think we just leave it alone for now. JJ invited me to the meeting on the 7th. Her supervisor has already been informed of that meeting. If she comes, we share. If she doesn’t, we can share that as well.”
The emails were sent in late June, around two weeks after Mikhail Gray attended the first public forum.
The Herald reached out to Army recruiters for comment and a copy of the letter of reprimand, however, Lisa Ferguson, spokeswoman U.S. Army Rcruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, said the Army could not comment on the issue due to privacy reasons.
Kayren Gray expanded on her and spouse’s thoughts surrounding the situation.
“The reprimand was given as a direct result of Nancy Duran’s mischaracterization of Mikhail’s comments to the trustees. Mikhail’s comments were made as a private citizen and are protected First Amendment speech,” Kayren Gray said. “Mrs. Duran called Mikhail’s chain of command and complained to them that she was speaking as a military member. She was not in uniform, nor did she say she was speaking as a service member. Mrs. Duran was embarrassed by the fact that Mikhail had called the Trustees to account for their failure to reply to communications from citizens in the district.”
The couple, who have a child that attends KISD, were attempting to speak on racial inequities in the district that they are hoping to help rectify.
“The broader issue is the racial disparities in our school district as reflected in the composition of the KISD administration vis a vis the students they serve, student academic outcomes, and student suspension rates. KISD serves an ethnically diverse student body consisting of 35% African Americans, 30.5% Hispanics, 21.8% Caucasian, 2.1% Pacific Islander, 1.7% Asian, 0.6% Native American and 7.7% two or more races,” Kayren said. “In other words, 77.6% of KISD students are non-white while 87.5% of KISD Central Administration Advisory Group and 74.1% of staff listed on the District Organizational Chart are Caucasian.”
Maya provided a statement from the district on the situation via email on Thursday.
“The district has received an appeal, it would be highly inappropriate for us to comment on a grievance outside of the formal process,” Maya said.