By Post staff
About 100 De Anza High School students held a day-long protest and peacefully demonstrated in front of the high school on Mar. 9. The students were part of the high school’s Law Academy program and they demanded that the West Contra Costa School District reverse a decision to fire their teacher.
De Anza’s principal and the West Contra Costa Unified school board decided not to renew the contract of probationary teacher Tahitia Dean, who was the director of the school’s Law Academy.
Under state law, school district’s can fire or layoff teachers during their first two years without giving any reason.
Students say they went to the school board, wrote letters to the principal and school board, but no one listened to their complaints – then officials decided against renewing the Dean’s contract, concerned parents said.
According to students, the announcement that the teacher was not going to be rehired may be tied to an incident that occurred when De Anza students attended a mock trial event in Martinez in February.
The De Anza law academy students’ bus broke down, and when a replacement bus arrived, it smelled strongly of marijuana.
The students felt disrespected. They were upset that that the company would provide them with a bus that was not clean. As might be expected of students who were learning to understand law and their rights, they expressed their concerns in letters to the bus company, the principal and administration.
The announcement of Dean’s termination immediately followed. Dean could not be reached for comment.
Some students and parents think Dean’s lost her job because she encouraged students to speak up for themselves. The students believe had they not said anything, that their instructor would still have a contract, said De Anza parent Jonothan Dumas.
“That was the kids actually wanting to do what they were learning to do in the law academy; which is if you see something that you believe to be wrong that you do something about it, that you put it in writing to the authorities,” he said.
“They did it without prompting,” he said. “They were voicing their frustration over the situation and this happens.”
A spokesman for the West Contra Costa School District told news reproters, “While we value and respect the opinions of our students and parents, the ultimate responsibility for evaluating teachers lies with the principal and the district.”
Congressman Mark DeSaulnier happened to be visiting the school on Monday during the protests and stopped to talk with the students. DeSaulnier could not be reached for comment.
Dumas, whose daughter attends the law academy, said parents are confused because the popular teacher was scheduled to participate in a teaching summer fellowship.
One of the requirements for the fellowship is that Dean needed acknowledgement from school management that her teaching contract was in place and would continue, according to Dumas.
Dean did get that acknowledgement, so the refusal to renew her contract was a surprise, he said.
Education professor Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein said that the decision to terminate the teacher seemed to contradict the school district’s commitment to excellent teaching.
“The testimonials by parents about the passion for education this teacher has created in their children are inspirational,” said Kelly Epstein. “She gives students new experiences, and she demands the best if them.”
“This is what we’re all looking for in a high school teacher,” she said.