About 30 members of BAMN congregated at the Berkeley school board meeting Wednesday night to protest the referral of a popular Berkeley High School teacher for performance review and possible disciplinary action.
Brian Crowell, who teaches history to ninth- and 10th-grade students at Berkeley High School, has been scheduled for a disciplinary meeting with the Berkeley Unified School District’s Human Resources Department set for Monday. The administration alleges Crowell inflated students’ grades and failed to take regular student attendance.
Crowell has also been referred to the Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review program, which evaluates underperforming teachers.
According to School Board Director Karen Hemphill, the B-PAR 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.
BAMN, an activist group, alleges that the referral is a retaliation against Crowell, who had criticized Berkeley High School’s ninth-grade curriculum in February as being poorly designed. According to Crowell, he received notice of the referral for review and disciplinary hearing soon after sending a note about the curriculum to administrators at the school.
“The district has praised him in the past for having an ability to really connect with students in a way that is very unique,” said Shanta Driver, the national chair of BAMN and one of the attorneys representing Crowell. “None of these accusations against him came into being before he attacked the ninth-grade curriculum.”
Berkeley High School principal Pasquale Scuderi declined to comment, saying that Crowell’s situation is an internal issue. Hemphill said she could not comment on personnel matters but said this decision is made at the school-administration level, not at the school-board level.
Various BAMN affiliates spoke at the meeting, including Yvette Felarca, a BAMN organizer and teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, as did a number of Crowell’s students.
“He teaches about current events,” said UC Berkeley freshman Aillen Zazueta-Bella, a former student of Crowell. “He tells students that they can go to college. There is no reason for him to be here (in this situation).”
BAMN also said that Crowell was targeted because he compiled and publicized statistics that were critical of the administration’s B-PAR policies. An article published in the Berkeley High Jacket, the school’s newspaper, referencing Crowell’s data analysis, said that over the last decade, black and Latino teachers, female teachers and teachers over 50 have been disproportionately placed in the B-PAR program.
“We have teachers who have been at BHS for 30 years who are scared for their jobs (because of this),” Crowell said. “If the administration fires me, it will send a chilling message to the other teachers and create an environment of fear.”