(SS) A Broward school district administrator has retired early after being accused by numerous employees of making racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexually inappropriate remarks.
Enid Valdez, 58, director of the career, technical and adult education, was accused of bullying, creating a hostile work environment and frequently using slurs and defamatory language to describe numerous employees in the district.
The investigation started in September 2019 after an employee quit and complained to Superintendent Robert Runcie about Valdez. Valdez had referred to that employee as a “Jewish American Princess,” an offensive name used to describe affluent Jewish women, according to multiple employees.
Six of Valdez’s direct reports wrote scathing memos about Valdez after her boss, Chief Academic Officer Dan Gohl, asked them to share their observations. Sixteen other employees or former employees who had worked with Valdez also portrayed her in an unflattering light in interviews with a district detective.
The employees accused Valdez of making numerous racist and bigoted comments, such as using the “n-word” and an antigay slur to refer to an administrator.
They said she nicknamed Runcie the “Black Abe Lincoln” and said he only liked to hire Black people. Runcie couldn’t be reached for comment, despite multiple attempts by phone and text message.
Valdez, a former principal of Piper High in Sunrise, was making $139,201 in her district-level job. She denied any racial hostility.
“As far as any racist remarks, my grandmother is of mixed race, so I am not a racist,” she told Detective Bernard Canellas of the district’s Special Investigative Unit in March, according to an audio recording obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
She also denied making anti-Semitic remarks.
“For the record, my deceased brother-in-law is Jewish,” she told Canellas.
Employees said she made some odd remarks such as saying “she is going home to kill a chicken, referring to Santeria to bring bad things to whomever she is discussing,” the investigation states.
She described one administrator as a drunk who had fallen asleep under a desk, two administrators as Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and several employees as illiterate, incompetent or mentally unstable, the employees wrote.
She also made insulting remarks about School Board members, particularly Nora Rupert, a former teacher who worked for Valdez at Piper, the employees said.
Valdez described Rupert as “an idiot and the worst reading teacher she had,” an employee wrote.
Rupert told the Sun Sentinel that Valdez’s bullying prompted her in 2010 to run for School Board.
“Ms. Valdez had an unusual leadership style — toxic,” Rupert said.
Valdez did not respond to requests for comment from the Sun Sentinel, either by phone or through her lawyer. However, she denied most of the 89 allegations leveled against her and said some comments were taken out of context, according to the investigative report and recorded statements.
When presented with copies of inflammatory text messages and emails, she blamed her secretary, who she said had access to her accounts, the report said.
“Valdez advised that this is the only reason that she cannot explain that some emails and text messages were sent and that she has no knowledge of them,” Canellas wrote.
Valdez said she never saw her secretary use her phone or email account to send these messages.
“In all of my career, I’ve always been professional, always been caring,” she told investigators in the March interview. “I’m human. I make mistakes absolutely. When I make a mistake, I own up to it.”
She told Canellas she had enacted important changes to make the career and technical education office more effective and accountable since she arrived in 2013. She said she believes the accusations were the result of employees who wanted to go back to the old way of doing things.
“I have to say I’m heartbroken because one by one, all of them have been promoted by me or were participants in leadership activities,” she said in the interview.
Before the district’s Professional Standards Committee could recommend discipline, Valdez retired this summer, four years ahead of her planned retirement date. She was placed on “do not rehire” status.
“Her case had not closed out and she decided to retire at the end of June,” said a statement from the office of Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch. “It was her right and decision to retire.”
Koch’s office declined to comment on the environment the employees complained about. As to how to prevent an incident from recurring, the statement said all district employees must complete annual training on the district’s anti-bullying policy.