Transfers Draw Lawsuit From Rosa Parks Teachers

Friday June 04, 2004

The four teachers involuntarily transferred last week from Rosa Parks Elementary School will file a grievance seeking monetary compensation, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers announced Tuesday. 

Calling Superintendent Michele Lawrence’s decision “an attack on our union,” BFT President Barry Fike said the transfers violated the teachers’ contract and were issued punitively in place of a proper performance review. 

The four teachers set to be transferred next year were among the more than three-quarters of the faculty that signed a letter to the superintendent asking for the transfer from the school of second-year Rosa Parks principal Shirley Herrera. Lawrence, instead opted to keep Herrera—the first principal to last two years at the school since 1999—and instead transfer members of the faculty. 

In addition to the four teachers being involuntarily transferred, others are being allowed to leave voluntarily. An exact tally on the exodus from Rosa Parks is unknown, but Fike put the number between seven and 13 teachers at the school which has 16 classroom teachers. 

Fike chastised Lawrence for refusing to bridge the gap between Herrera and the teachers and said he warned Lawrence that involuntarily transferring teachers could “do more than just rip apart Rosa Parks school, it could very well harm relationships between teachers and principals at other Berkeley schools.” 

Under the teachers contract, involuntary transfers are permissible only in cases when there are “irreconcilable differences” or a poor classroom learning environment. 

Since it’s doubtful that the teachers would be reinstated, Fike said they would seek monetary damages for emotional distress. 

Rosa Parks, which serves some of Berkeley’s poorest children, has repeatedly failed to meet state standards on standardized tests. Teachers, who chose not to give their names, last week said they believed the pressure to improve test scores further damaged their relationship with Herrera. 

Last Friday, Superintendent Lawrence met with 12 parents about the school. She told them she was considering hiring a mentor for Herrera, organizing diversity training for the new staff, and pumping in additional resources for the school, most likely in the form of increased staffing. 

Lawrence also promised to find a new science teacher for Rosa Parks—which is billed as an Environmental Sciences Magnate School—after the school’s dedicated science teacher was among those transferred. 

Finding new teachers from within the district could be tough, Lawrence said after a group of parents, staff and teachers— called Concerned Citizens of Rosa Parks School— vented their frustrations with Herrera. 

Not all parents opposed Lawrence’s decision or Herrera’s work at the school. 

Julie Holcomb, who attended the Friday meeting with Lawrence, praised Herrera as a responsive and committed principal and said the transfers were difficult but necessary. Holcomb said the superintendent told the parents that the overall behavior of children at Rosa Parks was markedly worse than at other district schools and that the culture of the school needed to be overhauled. 

Lawrence and Herrera are scheduled to attend a PTA meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the school.