Yvette Felarca, the Berkeley Unified middle-school teacher who is also a leader of the group By Any Means Necessary, appeared on Fox News on Monday to reiterate her stance that violent protesters were justified in shutting down a speech scheduled to be delivered by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on Feb.1. Felarca’s remarks have sparked an outcry from people who disagree with her views.
The phones, voicemail machines and email inboxes at the Berkeley Unified School District have been flooded with calls about Felarca, said Charles Burress, spokesman for the district. The main office of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, where Felarca teaches, has been swamped as well. (Berkeleyside has also gotten many emails, tweets and comments on the matter.)
“Every (message) I’ve seen has been opposed to having her employed by us,” said Burress.
A petition calling for her removal from BUSD garnered 2,000 signatures overnight, almost four times as many as had been collected in the last six months. (That number had gone over 4,000 by Wednesday.) A former King student set up the online petition at Change.org in July after he saw a video of Felarca yelling at a neo-Nazi at a Sacramento rally. On the video, Felarca is seen punching the man several times in the stomach, yelling “Get the fuck off our streets,” and then pulling his backpack. Felarca was later injured in the melée.
The Berkeley Unified School District wrote Felarca a warning letter a few days after the rally and placed her on paid administrative leave in September “pending an investigation into concerns that have been raised,” Burress said at the time. She returned to her classroom six weeks later and is still teaching. BUSD never explained its actions, citing confidentiality where personnel matters are concerned.
However, a grievance, as well as a federal lawsuit filed by Felarca against the district, suggests the disciplinary action was in reaction to Felarca’s political activity. In August, the district went into Felarca’s bank account and withdrew the equivalent of 25.17 days of pay, according to the lawsuit. The district had retroactively un-approved a number of sick and personal days Felarca had taken “claiming that employees could not use their personal leave days to attend political protests and claiming that Felarca had used them for this purpose,” according to the lawsuit. Felarca has stated she had doctor’s notes for some of the sick days she was absent and that she has the right to attend political rallies.
The next hearing for Felarca’s lawsuit against BUSD is on March 2. Former students of Felarca’s who were questioned by BUSD representatives also filed a case against the district. That hearing is set for March 25.
Felarca was at the Feb. 1 rally where a group of about 150 black-clad protesters removed metal barricades, threw rocks and incendiary devices at UC police, smashed windows at the MLK Student Union building, and later rampaged downtown, breaking bank windows and setting ATM machines on fire. Yet she has never stated directly that she and other members of BAMN were part of the violence.
Despite glossing over the specifics of her action, Felarca has taken credit for “shutting down” Yiannopolous.
“He should not be able to speak in public to spread his racist, misogynistic and homophobic lies,” Felarca told Tucker Carlson on Fox News.
Felarca could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Felarca has become the face of the radical opposition since the majority of the violent “black-bloc” protesters covered their faces with ski masks and bandanas and have not spoken out since Feb. 1, despite widespread criticism of their tactics. But Felarca has been more than eager to talk. Berkeleyside interviewed her during the protests. Her interviews with KTVU and now Fox News have been watched thousands of times.
Felarca’s remarks prompted an outpouring of outrage on Twitter and on the YouTube channel featuring the interview, as well as directed to the school district. Critics have tweeted “Let’s riot at her house,” and then published her home address. (An incorrect address, by the way.) They have listed the phone number for BUSD. They have written that Felarca should be waterboarded and arrested.
“I can not believe this racist is allowed to teach our children!” a Houston man named Brad McPherson wrote to Berkeleyside. “What is wrong with you people???”
Other comments were infused with swear words and derogatory remarks.
The school district issued a statement Wednesday from Ty Alper, the board president. He said the district could not respond to questions about whether Felarca would be reprimanded for her actions because it is a personnel matter. BUSD believes in the right of free speech, said Alper.
“It is important to emphasize that we firmly support the First Amendment right to free speech,” Alper said in the statement. “We also strongly condemn the use of violence in confronting speech, even speech we might find abhorrent or counter to the values of our community.”
Editors’ note: This article was updated 2/15 at 3 p.m. to add the comments from the school district.