Oakland School Board Accused of Retaliation Against Teacher Who Reported Violence

A petition is calling on the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to reinstate a kindergarten teacher whose position was not renewed when she spoke out after being attacked by a school board member.

Kindergarten teacher Darnisha Wright was choked by OUSD board director Jumoke Hinton Hodge during a teachers strike on March 1. Teachers were picketing a school board meeting during which members were scheduled to vote on cutting $21.75 million of OUSD’s 2019-2020 budget that would help pay for teachers’ raises, according to the East Bay Times.

The attack was caught on video and shared on Facebook, where it went viral. After Wright complained to OUSD about the attack, her position at Markham Elementary was not renewed, the petition claimed. It was unclear if Wright was fired or assigned another position at the school.

“[Wright] is a highly qualified African American teacher dedicated to serving low-income students of color in the community where she lives. She is exactly the kind of educator Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) needs and claims to be seeking,” the petition said.

In an email to The North Star, OUSD denied the claim that Wright’s position was not renewed. “Ms. Wright is still an employee of OUSD at Markham Elementary,” district spokesman John Sasaki wrote. “It is important to note that the District would never condone retaliation against any employee for any reason.”

Wright received an apology from Hinton Hodge on March 2. The OUSD board director described the incident as an “inadvertently pushing up against” Wright’s neck during a chaotic moment at La Escuelita Elementary School in Oakland, California before a school board meeting. Hinton Hodge said she was trying to get into the school when teachers on strike “engaged in a series of activities that physically threatened us as board members and me in particular.” At one point, Hinton Hodge claimed she was pushed to the ground and became “briefly disoriented,” NBC Bay Area reported. She reportedly pushed up against Wright’s neck as she tried to get up.

Wright told NBC Bay Area that she believes that Hinton Hodge’s actions were not directed toward her, but expressed surprise that the board director’s hand stayed on her for so long. Hinton Hodge said in a statement that she would never intentionally hurt someone, particularly a teacher. “I regret any harm that I might have caused her,” Hinton Hodge said, according to the East Bay Times. “I am deeply troubled by this and when realizing afterwards who it was, I offer my sincerest apology to Ms. Wright. I acted out of fear and self-defense, and would never seek to hurt anyone, least of all a teacher.”

“It was terrifying, unacceptable and has no place in our civil discourse, especially on a day when we should be celebrating an agreement that will end a strike and offer our teachers something closer to what they deserve,” she continued. “I deeply apologize to Ms. Wright and know her to be a dedicated teacher. I hope she and I can find a way to restore any harm that has been done.”

In May, Wright revealed that the district had terminated her contract following the incident. In a video, Wright called on community members to attend a June 12 school board meeting to demand OUSD “cease their retaliatory actions against me.” In a follow-up post on Facebook, Wright encouraged the community to attend. She noted that she would be unable to go to the meeting in person because she was participating in a 30-day Fulbright Fellowship to Ghana.

Wright did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. The petition, which has more than 700 signatures, said it stands with Wright against OUSD and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “We demand that OUSD stop the retaliation and return Darnisha Wright to her position teaching kindergarten at Markham Elementary,” the petition concluded.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.