Category: Berkeley

Berkeley City Council Approves Investigation of December Protests, Bans Tear Gas, Baton Strikes

March to Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

March to Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

By Judith Scherr

Two months after Berkeley police injured peaceful protesters with batons, tear gas and projectiles, some 150 activists led by Berkeley High, Berkeley City College and UC Berkeley Black student unions, took the Black Lives Matter message to the streets Tuesday, marching from the Cal Campus to the city council meeting at Old City Hall.

Moni Law, beaten by police Dec. 6, speaks at meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

Moni Law, beaten by police Dec. 6, speaks at meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

The council got the message.

In a series of unanimous votes, the council approved a temporary ban on police use of tear gas, projectiles and over-the-shoulder baton swings for crowd control; asked the Police Review Commission to review both specific tactics used by police at the December protests and general crowd control orders; directed the city manager to write policy for police cameras; and affirmed Berkeley support for national Ferguson Action demands.

“This is what democracy looks like – when the people of Berkeley come out on the streets and demand their elected representatives take action,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, speaking at a rally at Old City Hall before the meeting.  Arreguin authored most the policies the council approved later.

Also addressing the rally, Berkeley High senior Kadijah  Means talked about “what militarization looks like in our community.”

“ It’s not just about tear gas or AK 47s,” she said. “It’s about militarization as a mind set. It’s about cops believing we’re not all part of the same community. Because if they thought they were part of the community, we wouldn’t have the unjust deaths that we do.”

Kadijah Means, from the Berkeley High Black Student Union, speaks at rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Kadijah Means, from the Berkeley High Black Student Union, speaks at rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Inside the council chambers, several dozen speakers lined up to urge council approval of measures to hold police accountable for their actions at the December demonstrations protesting police immunity in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York.

“’I found myself, a Black woman, targeted by officers,’” said Associated Students of the University of California Senator Madison Gordon, reading a letter from an unnamed friend.

“’I found myself bearing the brunt of a beating of a baton across my chest and torso…I was gassed and fell to the ground coughing….The system that promised to protect me, had failed me so horribly and for what?  A peaceful demonstration to display my discontent for this system that continues to display violence and criminal acts on my people every day.’”

Andrea Pritchett from Copwatch said she had requested police operational plans for the demonstrations, but much of the response was blacked out.

“The police department is saying they redacted certain parts of the plan for security procedures,” Pritchett said. “They contain ‘intelligence information.’ My friends, that’s what a militarized police department does.”

Councilman Max Anderson speaks at Rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Councilman Max Anderson speaks at Rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Chamber of Commerce CEO Poly Armstrong, one of three speakers urging opposition to the measures, asked the council not to take crowd control tools away from police were they faced with another “civic uproar.”

“As the voice for business in Berkeley, Berkeley businesses would feel extremely uncertain if there were no way for police to protect the people of Berkeley and their businesses downtown,” she said.

The police chief was absent, though he generally attends council meetings when police matters are discussed. City Manager Christine Daniel told the Post he wasn’t asked to attend because he wasn’t required to give a report.

A police spokesperson told this reporter in December that aggressive police tactics responded appropriately to protesters, some of whom had thrown objects such as bottles at police. However, one public speaker called this “collective punishment.”

A unanimous council approved asking the city manager to write a plan within three months for implementation of police body and vehicle cameras, although some public speakers had expressed skepticism. In a recent Emeryville police shooting, the officer’s body camera was off and in the case of Eric Garner, the police officer who choked him was not indicted even though the choking was caught on camera.

The council unanimously affirmed the Ferguson demands that include strict limits on transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement and repurposing funds for alternatives to incarceration.

The council unanimously approved the Police Review Commission conducting an independent review of the December protests and a general review of related crowd control policies, with councilmembers underscoring the PRC needs to use its power to subpoena documents and testimony.

And the council approved the interim ban – to be re-evaluated after the independent review — on police use of tear gas, projectiles and certain baton strikes when dealing with mostly peaceful protesters.

Addressing the young people at the meeting, Councilmember Max Anderson said, “You’re part of a struggle along a continuum. You’re part of an effort to ensure the basic principles of this country are upheld.

“We’ve arrived at a point where an inordinate amount of power resides with the police department and their representatives; we arrived at this because we believed they would always have our best interests to protect and serve the general public. That hasn’t borne itself out. And you’re response is appropriate, courageous and has to be ongoing.”

Courtesy of the Berkeley Post, February 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley Meeting Addresses Prejudice

Hearing calls for end to “normalization of Blacks being treated like second-class citizens”

Barbra White, Berkeley NAACP, speaks at community meeting. Photos by Judith Scherr.

Barbra White, Berkeley NAACP, speaks at community forum. Photos by Judith Scherr.

By Judith Scherr

More than 250 residents, lawmakers and academics spent five hours Saturday at a forum exploring what Barbara White of the Berkeley NAACP called “the normalization of Blacks being treated like second-class citizens in America and Berkeley.”

john powell is a law professor and director of Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley

john powell, law professor and director of Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley

The stated agenda topic for the town-hall style City Council meeting at the Ed Roberts campus was “police-community relations,” but, as Councilmember Kriss Worthington said, the issue at hand was broader: “Prejudice and discrimination and racism — right here in Berkeley.”

john. a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, laid out the problem. “When we talk about segregation, we’re not simply talking about separating people based on phenotype,” he said. “We’re talking about separating people from life opportunities.”

Many of the more than 50 public speakers did address police-community relations, criticizing Berkeley police tactics at Dec. 6 demonstrations protesting the grand jury decisions against indicting white police officers responsible for the deaths of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks at meeting on police-community relations.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks at meeting on police-community relations.

Zach Malitz said he was protesting peacefully when police used tear gas and beat him and fellow demonstrators. Moni Law, injured by a police baton, said she’d filed a complaint with the Police Review Commission and urged others to do so.

“We saw militarized police responding in Ferguson,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “A similar thing happened in Berkeley.”

Others took the question of community-police relations beyond recent demonstrations, criticizing Berkeley police for random stops of African Americans.

Richie Smith, an African American elder, described her experience. “I had one officer that was upset with me because each time he turned the corner in the neighborhood, he saw me,” Smith said, explaining that she picks up trash along Adeline Street near her home once or twice every day.

“He wanted to know what was I doing so often on the street, (and I said), ‘I live here. My taxes pay your salary.’”

A group representing disabled people picketed outside the meeting to raise consciousness about problematic relations between police and disabled Black people, subject to both racism and misunderstanding by police.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond speaks at Berkeley meeting

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond speaks at Berkeley meeting

According to the group’s spokesperson Nomy Lamm, police sometimes mistake actions of deaf and mentally ill people for those of a non-compliant person and believe physically disabled pedestrians are drunk.

Solutions proposed included Rep. Barbara Lee’s call to end the transfer of military weapons to communities.

Residents proposed instituting a 24-hour team of health professionals to respond to mental health crises rather than police, body cameras for police, a moratorium on police use of tear gas and over-the-head baton strikes for crowd control, community policing and community control of police. Speakers also cited the need for jobs, affordable housing and equitable education.

The day’s discussion was one “this country has never really had in a meaningful way,” Councilmember Max Anderson said. “Our efforts as citizens to engage in the activities that strengthen democracy cannot relent at this point.”

The City Council will discuss police reform proposals Jan. 27 and Feb. 10.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, January 24, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Churches in Berkeley March for “Black Lives Matter Sunday”

 Pastor Michael McBride speaks over a crowd of people who staged a die-in on University Ave. in Berkeley symbolizing the fight against police brutality and injustice in the killings of unarmed Black men. Photo by Laura Wong.

Pastor Michael McBride speaks over a crowd of people who staged a die-in on University Ave. in Berkeley symbolizing the fight against police brutality and injustice in the killings of unarmed Black men. Photos by Laura Wong.

By Ashley Chambers

A large group of community members, faith leaders marched down University Avenue in Berkeley on Dec. 14 – recognized as “Black Lives Matter Sunday” in churches across the country – with signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “People of Faith Respond.”

Filled with passion and anguish over the recent grand jury decisions to not indict the police officers that killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown and continued racial injustice, the group was led by Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center and many other clergy leaders of different faiths.black lives matter sunday dec. 14

Called a “pilgrimage of lament,” the march started at First Congregational Church on Channing Way and ended at The Way Christian Center on University Ave. where a crowd of people staged a die-in, symbolic of the 4-and-a-half hours that Michael Brown’s lifeless body was left in the street in Ferguson.

“We’re here to declare that all Black lives matter and all Black lives deserve to be protected under the Constitution that says that we are all created with inalienable rights; the right to be safe, the right to live and pursue happiness,” said McBride, director of PICO National Network’s Live Free Campaign.

The event was intended to create a space for communities to mourn the Black lives lost to systemic racial injustice.

“I can’t keep up with the genocide. And we move and we organize, and we scream and we yell, and we’re fighting back, but I black lives matter berkeley dec. 14can’t keep up,” said Eniola Abioye, a senior at UC Berkley who led a peaceful protest from Sproul Hall at the university to the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland on Dec. 13.

A member of the UC Berkeley Black Student Union, she organized the protest after witnessing cardboard cutouts of Black bodies hanging from Sather Gate on campus.

“I don’t like the idea that although I feel like I have a lot to bring to the table in the way I look at the world, that I can still be seen as a threat,” said Mack McGhee Jr., a student at Laney College. “I don’t like the idea of my little brother growing up and having the looming fear of the people who are supposed to protect him.”

Among the churches that participated were The Way Christian Center, McGee Baptist Church, Congregation Netivot Shalom, The Church Without Walls and others.

Courtesy of the Post News Group. December 20, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley City Council Hears Police Abuse Claims, Fails to Act

By Judith Scherr

More than 100 people came to a raucous Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday to vent their anger at what they said was police use of excessive force at Dec. 6 protests against the grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo and Eric Garner in Staten Island.

Maria Moore

Maria Moore

But many of those lining up to speak, had hoped for more than an opportunity to vent. They wanted city council action.

Council action on urgency issues not on the agenda requires a two-thirds vote. The three progressives,  Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson, urged the council to do so, in order to discuss a Police Review Commission recommendation to temporarily ban police use of tear gas, over the shoulder baton strikes and firing projectiles.

Police used all three against protesters Dec. 6, contending that they were the object of bricks and bottles thrown by protesters.

The council refused to address the recommendation and also turned down a separate motion calling for a council meeting within a week on the issue.

Willie Phillips: Willie Phillips addressed the issue of accountability saying, in Berkeley, “we don’t know if there are issues around profiling because we don’t keep records of that.” Photos by Judith Scherr.

Willie Phillips: Willie Phillips addressed the issue of accountability saying, in Berkeley, “we don’t know if there are issues around profiling because we don’t keep records of that.” Photos by Judith Scherr.

Mayor Tom Bates, loudly heckled by the crowd, instead called a meeting for Jan. 17, where he said “experts” would discuss relevant issues.

But Anderson argued, “These are urgent matters. If someone on this dais is hoping that passions will cool (by Jan. 17) and things will go away, you’ve got another think coming. If we don’t act with expeditious intent then people will be justified in making the judgment that we’re shirking our responsibilities.”

Speakers addressed what they said was excessive force.

African American activist Moni Law said she was protesting peacefully on Dec. 6. when she was “punched in the back with a Billy club.”

Stephan (with an S) Elgstrand showed the council a projectile police shot at protesters.

Stephan (with an S) Elgstrand showed the council a projectile police shot at protesters.

“I’m not against police,” Law said.. “I’m against brutality.”

Another speaker was Maria Moore, sister of Kayla Moore, the African American transgender schizophrenic woman who died in police custody in 2013, after friends had called for help due to Moore’s bizarre, but not threatening, behavior.

“We live in a culture where individuals of color suspected of minor crimes are met with a police presence that leads to lethal force,” Maria Moore said. “Police blame the victims. Eric Garner chocked to death – that was his fault – he resisted; Michael Brown was a thug, he had it coming; Kayla Moore was mentally ill.”

Moni Law

Moni Law

Barbara White, vice president of the Berkeley NAACP, also linked Ferguson and Berkeley. Berkeley has failed to implement a program to collect data on the race of people stopped by police. She said the issue is bigger than the “appalling” deaths of Brown and Garner.

“It’s structural racism in America that’s not being addressed,” White said. “Black lives matter. They matter all the time in every area of life. We want to eat. We want a job. We want housing. We want our kids to be educated. And certainly, we want to go out in the street and not be killed.”

Courtesy of the Post New Group, December 19, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

UC Berkeley Students Continue to Protest Tuition Hikes

UC Berkeley students sit-in against tuition hikes

UC Berkeley students sit-in against tuition hikes. Poto courtesy money.cnn.com

By Nikolas Zelinski

Students rallied in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on Tuesday as part of their fight to keep tuition fees affordable and for more transparency in the university budget.

Their organization, the Open UC movement, is opposing tuition increases and is attempting more generally to bring attention to the runaway commercialization of education.

UC students protest

UC students protest

The effort, which included a seven-day occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley, is a response to the UC Board of Regents decision to increase tuition by five percent per year for the next five years. The total increase in cost would be around 28 percent.

The protest on the steps of Sproul Hall came on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) leader Mario Savio gave his famous speech on the same steps.

Savio was once dubbed one of the most powerful student organizers and political activists in America. In the Sixties, he was one of the students who joined the Mississippi Summer Project, which worked for voting rights in the South.

When he returned to school, Savio helped lead the FSM and gave his now famous speech on Dec. 2, 1964, calling for students to sit –in at the university, to throw their bodies on the gears to “machine” to bring it to a halt to defend free speech and the right to be active in the fight for civil rights.

Students at the Tuesday rally felt that it was important to have the demonstration on the same date because “We are fighting the same fight.”

The tuition hike was opposed by faculty, the student body, and the governor. The Democratic-led Senate has introduced SB 15, which would essentially nullify the tuition hikes made by the board.

The bill would add $156 million to the higher education budget next year from the general fund, but it will simultaneously cut $102 million from the middle-class scholarship program, according to a report from the Sacramento Bee.

Senate Democrats are also calling for cash incentives for California State University students who finish before the six-year average. San Diego Sen. Marty Block said, “If students take 15 units per semester, they will get out in four years instead of six years and save about $60,000 compared to the typical six-year student,” according to the report.

The bill and other recent actions by university administration are seen as a farce by some students.

“Education is a right, not a privilege,” said one student who asked that her name not be used. “It’s not just about the education itself that you want people in the community to have access to, but all of the things that come with having an educated society, (making people) more likely to vote, more likely to work, etc.”

“These are things that makes a democracy work,” she said.

Courtesy of the Berkeley Post, December 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley High Alumnus and Whistleblower Threatened with Arrest

By Ken Epstein

Most people would consider Ralph Walker a model Berkeley High School alumnus.

Ralph Walker

Ralph Walker

He ran track for two years when he was a student at BHS, graduating in 1971. He later worked as an assistant track coach for two years.

Over the years, Walker could often be seen at the school, supporting BHS athletics and participating in alumni activities. He started coaching and organizing an afterschool track club for youth, which has operated in both Berkeley and Alameda.

Lately, he has been raising his voice against “a lot of racist stuff going on at Berkley High,” including racial conflict among students and harassment and hostility against Black staff and students by administration.

Things began to get worse for Walker after he reported that he had learned that a noose had been found hanging on a tree on the Berkeley High campus, discovered by a BHS safety officer on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 1.

“I got a call from someone that there was a noose on campus, and the administration did not notify the parents. So, I let people know about it on Facebook,” he said. ”I’ve been hearing that some people at the school are upset that I did that.”

Since then, he had an argument with the woman who heads BHS security, and he filed a discrimination complaint against her. “When I filed the complaint at the district office, I was told I would get a reply within five working days. It’s been two weeks,” he said.

This noose was discovered  on the Berkeley High School campus on Oct. 1.

This noose was discovered on the Berkeley High School campus on Oct. 1.

While the district did not respond to his complaint, Walker did receive a text message last Friday from the Berkeley Police Department officer who works at the school, which said, ““If you come to the school, you will be arrested for trespassing because you’re going there to protest,” according to Walker.

“I have a pretty strong connection with a lot of parents up there,” he said. “A lot of them tell me stuff, and they don’t want me to say their names.”

“But they shouldn’t be scared to stick up for their kids,” Walker continued. “I’ve been talking about the racial problems at the school – from bad coaches to bad teachers. I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Walker said he received a call this week asking him to come to BHS for a meeting with the administration on Friday, but he was not told the reason for the meeting.

More than a week after the noose incident, the school notified Berkeley residents about it. In an email on Oct. 9, BHS Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza wrote: “This act of hate has never been, and will never be, tolerated on this campus.”

Melgoza said there was no video footage of the incident, no students had reported seeing the noose prior to its removal, and police had located no suspects.

He also apologized for the eight-day delay in communicating about the incident with the community, writing: “Berkeley High School Administration takes full responsibility for not bringing this matter to the attention of the larger community sooner.”

In an interview recently with the Post, he said BHS would organize small group discussions with the student body to raise understanding of the meaning of this hate incident.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

However, according to several BHS classified employees and teachers, there have been no discussions with students or assemblies.

“I don’t think they really care,” said an employee who asked not to be identified. “They say they care with their words, but their actions don’t back it up.”

Councilmember Darryl Moore

Councilmember Darryl Moore

They have not done anything, said another BHS employee. “They are trying to sweep this under the rug.”

At a teacher in-service meeting on Monday, the school had a 45- minute presentation on ancient African history and a short video clip on the history of lynching – not followed up by discussion. “I don’t know what that was about. What did that have to do with teaching anybody about the noose? Asked a teacher.

Vice Principal Melgoza and the district’s public information officer, Mark Coplan, did not returned calls from the Post.

The Post also emailed questions to Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Max Anderson about the police threat to arrest Walker and the failure of Berkeley High to deal with the noose incidents.

Councilmember Moore told the Post that he had not heard about the noose incident but felt that something should have been done sooner to educate the school community.

“If the noose incident happened on Oct. 1, it should have been done two weeks ago,” he said, adding that ““I know Ralph (Walker) – he has done a lot of good work with young people.”

Moore said he would follow up, making inquiries and calling Berkeley Schools’ Superintendent Donald Evans.

By press time, Mayor Bates and Councilmember Anderson had not responded to the Post.

 

Tony Thurmond Wins District 15th Assembly Race

Tony Thurmond and Kamala Harris

Tony Thurmond and Kamala Harris

By Nikolas Zelinski

In a race between two Democrats, Tony Thurmond beat Elizabeth Echols with 54 percent of the vote for the 15th District of the California Assembly.

District 15 includes 11 cities that are found between the southern edges of Oakland and the northern border of Hercules.

The victory is considered “upset” by some due to the political backing Echols received from Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, his wife, State Senator Loni Hancock and termed-out District 15 Assemblymember Nancy Skinner.

This is the first time in years that a candidate had won the seat without support from Bates.

Thurmond gives credit for his victory to the hard work of his supporters. .

“Our win is a testament to our volunteers who walked the precincts every single day and stayed focused,” Thurmond said. “I didn’t get the sense that being in the precincts every day was happening for the other campaign.”

Thurmond’s platform emphasized climate change issues, combatting violent crime, creating jobs, and fostering youth development. He has been outspoken and nurses’ picket lines backing efforts to save Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo.

His first plan of action in Sacramento is to push for youth recidivism and truancy reduction. Schools lose government funding when students are absent; less funding means less supplies and equipment.

Thurmond sees criminal justice reform and truancy reform as interrelated issues, “When young children miss school, their learning suffers, which puts them at risk of dropping out of school and ending up in the criminal justice system.”

Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 7, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Mom Keeps Fighting for Son in Berkeley High Special Education

Anthony Gaines

Anthony Gaines

 

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Nineteen-year-old Berkeley High student Anthony Gaines sits inside a room beyond our understanding within his own mind and wonders why one of his best friends, his mentor, and his constant daytime companion of three years has now deserted him.

Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

At least, we believe that’s what Anthony Gaines is thinking. Anthony is non-verbal, has been blind since birth and began losing most of his hearing soon afterwards, and so while his thoughts may be complex, he is only able to express them in the most restricted of forms.

He has been diagnosed with Norrie Syndrome, a rare genetic disease. Because of Anthony’s limited ability to communicate with the world, no-one is able to explain to him that his longtime mentor has not deserted him at all, but has been transferred from responsibility for his care by the helper’s employers, Berkeley High School.

Anthony’s mother, Stacey Rodgers, has an additional reason why she can’t give her son an explanation.

“I can’t tell him why Linnette isn’t working with him any more because I don’t know, myself,” Rodgers said. “They haven’t told me anything other than that they have the authority to transfer her.”

The Linnette that Rodgers is talking about is Linnette Robinson, an Instructional Assistant (IA) at Berkeley High School. As a special needs student, Anthony is eligible to attend public school until he is 22. He attends Berkeley High because he lives full time at Build House, a West Berkeley home for children with severe disabilities.

Rodgers, a single mother, does not live with him, but visits with him several times a week.

While a lead teacher runs the classroom in which Anthony spends his day at Berkeley High, the Instructional Assistant must be at his side constantly while at school, including getting him to and from the bus and the bathroom and overseeing his eating at lunch and snack times.

His IA is his lifeline to the world.

When Robinson first met Anthony at Berkeley High School four years ago, he had been assigned to another IA. “At the time, nobody wanted to work with Anthony because he would have violent outbursts.”

The problem was, Robinson later learned, that neither the teacher nor the instructional assistant assigned to Anthony were communicating with him. “They weren’t signing with him,” she said.

Signing is a particular challenge in communicating with deaf-blind individuals. While a deaf sighted person can see both the familiar standard American Sign Language hand signals as well as the physical expressions and mannerisms of the person they are “talking” with, a deaf-blind person uses a special form of that sign language done exclusively by hand contact.

Anthony has access to a cochlear implant that allows him hearing in one ear, but an earlier device frequently malfunctioned, and he has had trouble adapting to its replacement.

Berkeley High School

Berkeley High School

“If he was wearing his cochlear implant, they would simply give him orders, versus him being able to communicate back to them,” Robinson said. “He had no way of releasing any information.”

Robinson was soon assigned to take over instructional assistant responsibilities for Anthony. The first thing she said she did was to ask the lead teacher in the class: “What sign language does Anthony use? What words does he know? And the teacher didn’t know. Nobody had told him.

“So I started working with Anthony to do things like say that he had to go to the bathroom. I started getting him to walk up and down the hallway until he could do it on his own.”

Robinson began to see progress: “We got to the point where we would sit there arguing back and forth using sign language. The other staff members couldn’t believe it. They didn’t know he could do things like that.

“We had progressed to the point where Anthony’s mother said he had signed to her that he needed to go to the bathroom, and then got up and went. He’d never done that before.”

Anthony’s mother had made formal complaints to Berkeley school officials about Anthony’s educational environment during his first year at Berkeley High. Although Rogers continued to press Berkeley High School officials to add more items to her son’s learning day, she held off on formal complaints after Robinson took over as Anthony’s IA and she began to see him progressing at the school for the first time.

At the same time, his outbursts and acting out at school decreased dramatically. But then abruptly after three years of progress, without prior warning to either Robinson or Rodgers, Robinson was taken off Anthony’s assignment at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

In a complaint filed with Berkeley Unified School District in January of this year, Rodgers wrote that “Anthony had formed a trusting relationship with [Robinson] and had progressed well under her instruction. I was promised [by school officials] that the new IA was trained in sign language and that [Robinson] would train the new person so that a transition…would occur.”

“Both things…were lies,” she continued. “The first week of school my son worked with a substitute Instructional Assistant. In the first month of school my son experienced a new untrained classroom teacher (no deaf/blind training), a new classroom in a new building, and an IA with absolutely no training.”

Responding, Berkeley Unified School District Public Information Officer Mark Copland called the Robinson complaint “ancient history,” adding that the Berkeley School Board had already upheld Robinson’s transfer from working with Anthony.

Copland did not return several phone messages asking to speak with someone at Berkeley High with direct knowledge about Anthony’s case.

While Robinson wants to be returned to work with Anthony, she said she has been told by school officials that they want to use her skills with other children. However, she has her own theory about her reassignment.

“It’s because I talk to Stacey,” Robinson said, explaining, “I think it’s a Black-White thing. I’ve seen a number of Caucasian kids – if their parents don’t want a particular staff member on their case, they take them off their case. If they say they want something for their student, they get something for their student.”

“Since Stacey is a fighter, they’re going to show her she’s not going to get what she wants,” Robinson said. “They told me before I met her that she was crazy, but after I met her, I found out all she was trying to do was get them to do the things they’re supposed to do for her child, like any parent would do.”

Anthony, Rodgers and Robinson are African-American.

Robinson said that by her observation, Anthony has regressed in the year since she was removed from his assignment. “They’re back to doing things for him, when I had been getting him to do things for himself,” she said.

“They’re not challenging him,” she continued. All that dancing and happiness he had, he doesn’t do any more. He has a sullen look on his face all the time.”

He has also acted out in other ways, with increasing incidents of stripping off his clothes at school or becoming violent with school staff.

“I’m going to ask them again to assign Linnette to Anothony,” Rodgers said as the new school year begins. “I hope they listen to me this time. He was doing so well with her. He’s going to end up being at Berkeley High for seven years. I don’t want the rest of his time to be a waste.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 27, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Whistle Blowing Teacher Says He Faces Firing for Revealing Discrimination

By Ken A. Epstein

Brian Crowell, a Berkeley High School history teacher, is locked in a fight with his school and district over the Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review (B-PAR) program, which was originally designed to help underperforming teachers improve their teaching.

Brian Crowell

Brian Crowell

But he says the program – as it operates in practice – is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory and that it harasses and targets African American and older women teachers and pushes them out of their jobs.

Most of the teachers who are placed in the program “are forced to resign or retire,” he said.  “That’s the real purpose – not to improve your teaching practice. That’s a total lie.”

Crowell has taught 9th and 10th grade history classes at Berkeley High School since 2007 and been teaching for 14 years.

An elected building rep – shop steward – for his fellow teachers since 2009 at Academic Choice – the biggest of the schools into which Berkeley High has been subdivided – he began to represent teachers who were subjected to the PAR process and soon began to advocate to shut it down.

“I thought there was discrimination in which people were being referred to PAR,” he said in an interview with the Post.

“It’s a horrible process,” Crowell said. “It is not a program of helping teachers. It is a program of forced retirement and discrimination.”

“Nobody has ever said: ‘PAR has made me a better teacher.’ Ever. Nobody has ever said: ‘It helped me,’” said Crowell.  What teachers told him, instead, is “It’s like being in prison. It’s hell. It’s twilight zone. It made me want to quit.”

Defending B-Par, School Board Director Karen Hemphill told the Daily Californian newspaper that the program is designed to fairly evaluate underperforming teachers and allows teachers to improve their teaching after receiving unsatisfactory evaluations instead of dismissing them outright. The B-PAR panel is made up of both teachers and administrators who jointly make evaluations.

Though he was a building rep, Crowell has not had the backing of his union. The union president serves on the B-PAR panel, and the union does not represent teachers who have complaints about the process, he said.

Crowell, who was popular with students and always received excellent job evaluations, soon found himself in B-PAR’s crosshairs when he began to demand demographic data on which teachers were assigned to the program.

Berkeley High School

Berkeley High School

Denied the information despite a Public Records Act request, he finally was able to receive the data after he talked to and received support from the school board president.

Only a few days after receiving the information last spring, his department chair came to his classroom and cursed him out in the hallway, within earshot of his students, said Crowell.

He also received notice he was being placed in the PAR program, accused of “unprofessional behavior” for giving a couple of classes high grades and for clerical errors during two weeks of taking attendance, he said.

“Proving retaliation is never easy, (but) there was immediate retaliation,” he said. “They started the investigation on me the same day that I got the (demographic) information,” he said.

What the B-Par data revealed was startling.  Almost all (20 out of 22) of the women in B-PAR since 2002 were over 55 years of age. Almost all of the teachers in B-PAR had high levels of experience and education, which meant they placed higher than average on the salary scale.

In addition, 24 percent of the teachers in B-Par (10 of 41) were African American, though only 6.5 percent  (39 out of 604 in 2010) of Berkeley Unified teachers were Black.

“I’m a whistle blower,” he said. “I’m proud. This is happening because I blew the whistle on this problem.”

However, the constant stress has taken a toll on his health, says Crowell, who has been on medical leave since September.

“What it does to your health is devastating,” he said. “When I came back to work (last) fall, they were harassing me. They were trying to get me to curse at them, get me angry so they could fire me.”

It was clear they were saying: “He’s a trouble maker. Go after Brian,” he said. “But I was trying to make the union strong. I was trying to give the teachers their power back.”

The son of two educators, Crowell is married to an elementary school teacher, and the couple has two children who go to school in Oakland.

The practice of B-PAR, though not necessarily the written policy makes someone who is placed in the process into a second-class citizen, says Crowell.

“You are evaluated every single year for the rest of your career,” compared to other teachers who are evaluated every second year. “You can’t have a student teacher. You can’t be a union rep.  You can’t file a grievance against anything that happens in the PAR process. You’re considered a bad teacher by your colleagues.”

“This is how it plays out in practice.”

Crowell says he is going through the legal process. He has filed complaints against the district for discrimination and against the union for failure to represent him.

If those complaints are rejected, he plans to go to court.

Berkeley Unified has not responded to the Post’s questions about B-PAR, and according to a staffer at the union, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, “Because of pending litigation against the union, our attorney has advised us not comment.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 27, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)