Rumor has it that the Seattle School District is punishing the high school teacher at the center of a controversy earlier this year—concerning his award-winning race and social justice class—by transferring him to another school.
If you'll recall, Center School humanities teacher Jon Greenberg's curriculum came under fire this spring after a family complained to the district that his race and social justice unit made their kid uncomfortable, and the district responded with surprising vehemence by suspending the class's curriculum and sending it to a review committee. But after all the fuss, the district reinstated the class with a few recommendations—and reassured the public that they're totally committed to talking about race and social justice issues. (They're currently under federal investigation for racial disparities in their discipline practices, a story that broke right in the middle of this curriculum dustup.)
Ironically, the school and this curriculum then went on to win a citywide award for "encouraging dialogue around race, gender and class."
Now, multiple sources have called and e-mailed to tell me that the district plans to transfer Greenberg in the fall. The district won't comment on "open personnel matters," says spokeswoman Teresa Wippel, but plenty of people (current and former teachers, parents, students) seem to have reliable information that Greenberg heard from the district this weekend—after chaperoning prom on Saturday night—that he'll be sent to Hamilton Middle School next year. Asked to respond to the rumors, Wippel says only that Superintendent José Banda is now "considering the appropriate action" after the same family filed a second complaint alleging that Greenberg retaliated against their student for complaining. The district's investigation, says Wippel, found in fact that he "did not retaliate against the complainant," but that he did violate a "harassment, intimidation, or bullying" policy by allowing some students who were organizing to save the curriculum to distribute their petition in his classroom "when the complainant was in the class."
I went to this high school. I have connections to hundreds of students, alumni, parents, teachers, former teachers, etc.—and they are furious. If the district genuinely thinks their staff member is breaking the rules, they should work with him or fire him. But if, as their own investigations keep showing, there is simply a problem between this teacher and this one family—and the student in question is a senior who won't be there next year—how does transferring him away achieve anything other than punitive action that will be then be an ongoing detriment to the school he leaves behind?
Current teachers have sent around a public letter saying they "stand categorically opposed to the proposed transfer. Jon Greenberg is an outstanding, award-winning teacher and a seminal member of The Center School staff; his transfer would be a huge loss to the school."
There's also growing chatter that the district may be angling to quash the activist spirit of the school, which has always been robust. Wippel wouldn't comment on what the district hopes to accomplish with the transfer. Here's what I know: When I was in school there, cliques were organized as much around political leanings as anything else. We staged walkouts against the Iraq War, we petitioned aggressively over disciplinary measures and curriculum changes, we lobbied to change the bathroom-pass policy based on OSHA rules we learned about in a labor history unit. Immediately upon hearing of the transfer over the weekend, school community members called meetings, activated Facebook groups, and started organizing to testify at the school board meeting on Wednesday.
If the district is hoping to do this quietly, it will certainly fail.
But if its goal is to disempower the students and staff at this high school—students and staff who like to show up en masse at board meetings and publish editorials when they think the district is fucking up—they may have some success. That's just an incredibly chilling goal for a public school district.