About 25 angry teachers and parents demonstrated outside a San Francisco middle school at lunchtime yesterday to protest the dismissal of staff members who they say were targeted for raising concerns over student violence and high suspension rates at the campus.
“The administrators are still here, but 17 of our valuable staff members are gone,” teachers union representative Allan Brill told a crowd in front of Dr. Martin Luther King Academic Middle School. “People with literally a couple hundred years of experience are now replaced by about 15 brand new teachers that are on probation.”
The protest followed a Bay Citizen investigation into the school, where suspensions more than doubled last year and police were called 149 times to deal with violence and other unsafe student behavior.
The blame, demonstrators said, belongs to Principal Natalie Eberhard and Assistant Principal Anthony Braxton, who both started at the school last fall.
Eberhard and Braxton did not make an appearance during the protest, but Eberhard said later by phone that she was working to implement new ways to address unruly student behavior.
“I understand that there are concerns that me and Mr. Braxton held students accountable for violent behavior and that that increased suspensions from previous years,” Eberhard said. “That was the avenue available to us last year.”
Braxton earlier declined to discuss complaints from parents and teachers.
Since classes began last month, the school has partnered with the NAACP and other community organizations to connect students to tutoring and mental health services, Eberhard said. The school also will place an emphasis on restorative justice over suspensions, she said.
“We haven’t had any suspensions yet this year,” she said. “I’m really excited about our new beginning.”
Martin Luther King Middle School serves about 525 students in the southeastern Portola district, an area where it has been notoriously difficult for schools to attract teachers. About 20 percent of the school’s students are African American, 20 percent Latino and 50 percent Asian American.
Porsche Lewis, whose nephew is a sixth-grader there, was angry to see so many teachers removed from the school.
“We need teachers who want to teach in our neighborhoods,” she said. “Instead they’re sending them to other parts of the city.”
Some in the crowd yesterday said they have attended seven Board of Education meetings this year to complain about violence and mismanagement at the school. Board members say the complaints are being handled by district administrators.
“I’ve been to the Board of Education three times, and they ignored me three times,” said the Rev. Charles Smith of St. Luke’s Baptist Church in the Bayview district. “We wonder why our children pick up guns and shoot. It’s because they’re angry because nobody will stand up for them.”
The demonstrators were most upset that fights and violent outbursts skyrocketed at the school last year.
Tobias Cain, a school security guard who was transferred out of Martin Luther King this summer, used a cane to ease pain in his left knee as he walked to the protest lectern. He told the crowd he was injured when Eberhard fell on him as she sat on a distraught student in an attempt to restrain her. One witness, the school’s former secretary, has corroborated Cain’s account.
District officials said they have reviewed a video of the incident and found Cain’s version of events to be untrue.
“That was fully investigated by the district and found to be not truthful,” Eberhard said yesterday. “Did I restrain a student? Yes. Did I sit on a student? Absolutely not.”
The district has not released the video.