Disgraced Garfield High School athletic director sues over firing

SEATTLE -- A former athletic director twice found to have faked grades for star Seattle basketball player Tony Wrotten Jr., would like his job back, and has again sued to get it.

Former Garfield High Athletic Director James Valiere was also found to have allowed academically ineligible players to take the field.

Now he has sued Seattle Public Schools claiming he was wrongly fired for the purported misconduct.

Valiere was cut loose in 2011 after the grade-fixing allegations surfaced. He also landed Garfield on probation with state athletics officials after hiring a soccer coach who'd previously coached players outside of school.

Since then, Valiere has fought - largely without success - to have the district's decision thrown out by a state court judge. His attorney filed a lawsuit to that end, his second, earlier this month.

Responding to allegations that Valiere was wrongly discharged, a Seattle Schools spokeswoman noted a hearing examiner has twice upheld the firing.

According to court papers, Valiere, a certificated Spanish teacher, attempted to obtain independent study credits for basketball star Tony Wroten, Jr. and a second student-athlete after both received D grades in Spanish. Both needed passing grades to continue playing.

Having no evidence he taught either of the children, Valiere awarded grades to the boys and tried to change their earlier poor grades.

"The conduct reflects a virtual abandonment of the responsibilities of teaching and subsequent issuing of unearned grades to students who were not provided an opportunity to learn," hearing examiner Stew Cogan said in his June 28 decision.

Wroten, who was identified publically as one of the students involved, went on the play for the University of Washington and has since been drafted into the NBA. The second student's name was not publicized.

The district's investigators also contended Valiere allowed ineligible football players to continue playing for Garfield, then lied to state athletics officials in an attempt to minimize the extent of the problem.

At issue was a Sept. 10, 2010, football game between Garfield and Sammamish High School during which Garfield fielded six players who were not eligible to play because of poor academics. According to court papers, Valiere attempted to dissuade Garfield defense coordinator Anthony Kelley - a former University of Washington linebacker - from letting the ineligible students take the field, but then failed to stop Kelley from playing them.

After the game, Valiere understated the number of ineligible players who played in a report to district officials and league officials, according to Cogan's decision.

On Valiere's watch, Garfield was also sanctioned for his hiring of a boys soccer coach in violation of Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association rules. The man had coached a select soccer team that included several Garfield players; his hiring was reported to the WIAA by a competing coach.

The WIAA subsequently placed Garfield on probation for one year. Valiere failed to tell his supervisor or the district about the WIAA decision for four months.

Valiere was fired following a series of hearings in June 2011, and has fought his firing since. He appealed an initially hearing examiner's decision to King County Superior Court; a judge subsequently ordered the case remanded to the hearing examiner for additional review due to a state Supreme Court decision related to firings of public employees.

Taking a second look at the evidence against Valiere last month, a Cogan again found the district had cause to fire Valiere.

First opining on the vague nature of the state Supreme Court's most recent decision on when educators may be fired, Cogan affirmed the earlier decision against Valiere. Valiere's grade doctoring alone, the hearing examiner found, would have been cause for his firing.

In the lawsuit, Valiere attorney Tyler Firkins contended Cogan considered the case improperly and failed to align the process with the Supreme Court's directives. The school district has yet to respond formally to the lawsuit, which is filed in King County Superior Court.