NAACP releases list of complaints alleging discrimination against Black students, employees

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The Berkeley chapter of the NAACP sent a letter listing a series of complaints May 10 alleging discrimination against Black students and employees by the Berkeley Unified School District to the district’s Board of Directors.

The list contains 18 complaints, with allegations including lack of transparency, retaliation against Black employees who voice administrative wrongdoings and failure to investigate and address equity challenges facing students, among others. Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley NAACP, called for a board review of BUSD officers and employees identified in the complaints in the letter.

The complaints come after a string of racially charged incidents that have occurred in the district within the past year. At Berkeley High School alone, the school’s yearbooks were recalled last June for “offensive and racist” text, and threats against Black students were left on a library computer, after which more than 2,000 students and teachers staged a march through the city of Berkeley in protest.

Despite the extensive list of complaints, limited specific information has been provided to the BUSD, according to BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan. Coplan said the district and NAACP have been in contact for more than three weeks regarding equity concerns; but their interactions have been devoted primarily to collecting information about the complaints for the NAACP.

“We haven’t gotten any details, (the NAACP has) mostly been asking for information from us,” Coplan said. “The complaints are based on individual employee cases that have been brought to (the NAACP’s) attention, but we don’t have that information.”

Id-Deen could not be reached for comment.

Of the listed complaints, several address an alleged failure on the part of BUSD officials to implement effective targeted programs to specifically assist Black students who are at-risk or facing crises. In the letter, Id-Deen specifically cites the district’s failure to implement the Equity Strategy Framework and Rubric, which was developed beginning in 2010 as a tool to review and improve practices that affect the academic achievement of students of color.

Id-Deen further characterized the collective impact of the alleged failures as “ethnic cleansing” of Black employees. Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education President Beatriz Levya-Cutler, however, took issue with this characterization.

“(The) words ethnic cleansing (are) defined as: the mass expulsion or killing of members of an unwanted ethnic or religious group in a society. … This is not happening in BUSD,” Levya-Cutler said in an email.

According to the letter, the NAACP has been involved in a 10-month investigation of the district’s Human Resources Department.

The complaints isolated several BUSD employees from the Human Resources Department as contributing to racial discrimination in the district. Allegations include holding secret personnel files, not providing advance notification of remaining leave time to employees and providing false information to employees and organizations responsible for allocating unemployment insurance benefits.

According to Coplan, the process of addressing equity concerns is complex and could involve more steps than just launching a board review because of confidentiality issues arising from investigations into specific employees. Levya-Cutler said the board will be contracting with an outside firm to conduct an investigation.

“While we take these complaints seriously, we cannot comment publicly on any ongoing or future investigation that pertains to specific personnel matters as these matters are confidential,” Levya-Cutler said in an email.

Levya-Cutler sent a reply to Id-Deen and other members of the NAACP on Monday, informing them of the aforementioned confidentiality issues and expressing the district’s commitment to addressing racial disparity.

“We continue as a district and a board to work (and) partner with a number of community members including the NAACP to better serve our African-American Students, parents and staff and students of color,” Levya-Cutler said in her response to the NAACP.

Contact Trevor Greenan at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @trevor_greenan.