The Berkeley Unified School District has placed Yvette Felarca, a Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teacher who is also a controversial anti-racist activist, on administrative leave “pending an investigation into concerns that have been raised.”
Felarca was placed on leave Wednesday, according to Charles Burress, district spokesman, who declined to be more specific because it was a personnel matter.
But Felarca and members of a group in which she serves as a political organizer, BAMN, or By Any Means Necessary, said the investigation is connected to her actions at a counter-protest against white supremacists in Sacramento on June 26. A television station filmed Felarca taunting and hitting a neo-Nazi attending the rally led by the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist extremist group. Felarca, along with a number of others, was injured in the confrontation. Film clips show her with a head wound.
A day after the confrontation, which received national news attention, King officials received an anonymous email that said “if certain actions were not taken against the teacher within the week, someone would come to King with the intent to harm students,” according to a statement released at the time by school officials. As a precaution, day campers from groups renting space at King were moved to another location. (No BUSD students were on site). The FBI determined that it was a low-level threat but Berkeley police increased patrols around the school.
The violent video of Felarca hitting a neo-Nazi delighted her supporters, who praised her for fighting against the backlash against immigrants that they believed Donald Trump had encouraged. But it also concerned many parents and community members, some of whom signed a petition calling for Felarca’s ouster. More than 500 people – many outside of Berkeley – signed the petition.
Felarca and BAMN declined to share with Berkeleyside the letter BUSD sent outlining the investigation. However, in comments made before and at a BUSD school board meeting Wednesday night by Felarca and her supporters, it appears BUSD is looking into whether Felarca “indoctrinated” any students with her political views; whether she took excessive time off, perhaps to engage in political activity; and whether she spoke badly of the BUSD administration.
Felarca said she has been ordered to stay off BUSD property. The district also went into her bank account and removed her August paycheck, and indicated it will garnish more funds in the future, she said. District officials also took some of Felarca’s students out of her class on Wednesday to question them, she said, without their parents’ permission.
Felarca said BUSD’s actions are a “witch hunt.”
“I believe the District’s actions against me are politically motivated, capricious and unlawful,” she wrote to Berkeleyside in an email. “This cannot be allowed to stand, or allow the District Administration to set a precedent that would give them the right to conduct political witch-hunts against teachers who challenge the racist, xenophobic politics of Donald Trump and his ilk, and who challenge the increased segregation and growing inequality within the Berkeley Public School System.”
“Management’s disciplines against me are based overwhelmingly on my off-duty political activities and my political affiliation with the national civil rights and immigrant rights organization BAMN. The BFT (Berkeley Federation of Teachers) is filing a grievance on my behalf,” wrote Felarca.
Cathy Campbell, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, confirmed that the union will be filing a grievance on Felarca’s behalf.
Felarca and a number of supporters attended the school board meeting Wednesday night to complain about her suspension. Many King teachers testified that Felarca was a good teacher, one who cared greatly about her students.
“She’s an amazing teacher,” said one woman. “She doesn’t just teach to the middle, to the top. She teaches to all of them. [I traveled to Sacramento with her] “and didn’t hear any indoctrination. I heard a teacher who was deeply caring about her students.”
Felarca said if she is not reinstated, she and her supporters plan to protest again before the school board before their next meeting.
“I promise you, you will not get away with this,” Felarca told members of the school board.
Check out numerous videos of Felarca’s supporters talking to the school board here.
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