Teachers and staff in the Berkeley public schools are alleging that the district has engaged in discriminatory hiring and promotion practices against African Americans and older staff.
In a letter to Superintendent Donald Evans dated Sept. 11, Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen said the organization has received ongoing complaints from both credentialed staff and classified employees of discrimination in hiring and promotions, improper job classification and rankings on job candidates eligibility lists.
The district’s actions, including retaliation, disproportionately impact African Americans and older staff members, according to the allegations.
“The unwelcoming work environments experienced by BUSD’s African American employees have had a devastating effect on their overall incomes, health and well-being,” Id-Deen wrote.
The “climate of fear” experienced is so extreme, multiple employees contacted declined to comment on the record due to fear of retaliation.
In 2014, the East Bay Express and the Post newspaper reported that BUSD disproportionately disciplined Black and older educators.
When Berkeley High teacher Brian Crowell advocated for ethnic studies to be added to the curriculum, the administrators ordered him to participate in Berkeley’s Peer Assistance and Review (BPAR), a joint district-union program for poorly rated teachers that often results in firings.
Nearly a quarter of those referred to BPAR between 2002 and 2012 were African Americans, despite being less than 7 percent of all teachers in the district.
BPAR also disproportionately included teachers over 54 years old and women. The California Public Employment Relations Board ruled in favor of Crowell. The stress of BPAR and retaliations caused his health to deteriorate.
In September 2013, Crowell took a doctor-ordered medical leave. He has not returned to teach yet, despite winning in a California Public Employment Relations Board hearing.
The most recent charges of BUSD staff follow a year of other racial controversies. Last academic year, a noose was found hanging on campus, and a Black alum and whistleblower–Ralph Walker–was banned from campus without explanation for the school year.
This past spring, the publishing of a racist phrase in Berkeley High’s yearbook led to a recall of the publication. Additionally, the Berkeley Post reported inequalities in high school graduation rates persist, despite Berkeley’s adoption of a Vision 2020 plan.
Almost 19 percent of Berkeley schools’ students identify as Black. Only 45 of the nearly 686 teachers throughout the district are African American, or 6.5 percent.
Of nearly 200 teachers at Berkeley High, only nine are Black.
Superintendent Evans said in a May letter that he would review complaints of discriminatory hiring and promotions during the 2014-15 school year.
“I am committed to determining whether there is an overall pattern and practice to be aware of…” Evans wrote. He added it was “troubling” that BUSD staff approached the NAACP, “as that indicates that they may not have felt confident in our ability to resolve their concerns.”
The NAACP will meet with Evans soon and has requested the district secure an outside firm to review complaints and provide solutions to the issues, Id-Deen said.
“We want to impress upon your administration at BUSD that absolutely no level of inequity is acceptable,” he said.