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Former High School Administrator Files Federal “Whistleblower” Lawsuit Against OUSD

Cleveland McKinney alleges he lost his job for complaining about “unsafe and discriminatory conditions” at McClymonds High

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Cleveland McKinney

Cleveland McKinney, a former assistant principal at McClymonds High School in West Oakland, has filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Unified School District, alleging that he was demoted and terminated for exercising his freedom of speech to complain about “unsafe and discriminatory school conditions, including tainted water, disproportionate suspensions of Black children, staff assaulting students, misappropriation of funds (and) sexual harassment of female students.”

“I’m a whistleblower,” said McKinney in an interview with the Oakland Post. “They forced me out once I began to speak up about a lot of the injustices that were going on and how they mistreated the Black community (in West Oakland) in the same way.” 

Reached by the Post, the district said it does not comment on pending litigation. 

During the time he was facing threats of demotion and loss of his position, several hundred members of the McClymonds community attended a school board meeting to protest the retaliation against him.

McKinney’s complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December 2020 by Sonya Z. Mehta of Oakland civil rights law firm Siegel, Yee, Brunner and Mehta. The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount of money including damages for lost wages, emotional distress and pain and suffering. 

Depositions began in the past few weeks for the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in August 2022. In addition to the district, the complaint names McKinney’s former bosses, OUSD Executive Director of High School Instruction Vanessa Sifuentes and former McClymonds Principal Jarod Scott as defendants.

Prior to facing retaliation and being terminated by OUSD, McKinney had a spotless record as a teacher and school administrator since about 1996, according to the lawsuit.

McKinney was originally hired by OUSD in 2014 to help implement a 2012 Office of Civil Rights complaint against the district for “discriminatory discipline, including unwarranted suspensions, against African American students.”

State statistics indicate that in 2020-2021 McClymonds had 357 students, of whom 78% were Black. 

In his position at OUSD, McKinney worked with the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education to help create new discipline policies and train teachers how to discipline students. 

“McClymonds appointed McKinney the on-site administrator with school-wide responsibility for discipline as per the requirements of the 2012 agreement,” according to the lawsuit. 

The relationship between McKinney and his bosses began to deteriorate by Aug. 22, 2016, when he reported that water in McClymonds locker room looked “dirty and orange.”

“(He) requested the water be tested because of his reasonable belief that the water was dangerous and injurious to students,” the lawsuit said.

McKinney and others, including former McClymonds basketball coach Ben Tapscott, pushed for the district to conduct testing of all parts of the school, while students and teachers still used the water.

Officials told school staff there was nothing wrong with the water. “They advised letting the water run for five minutes, even for the cooking water in the kitchen,” though the water was still dirty after letting it run, the complaint said. 

An official stated she would not spend $100,000 to fix corroded pipes and that filters would be sufficient, the complaint said.

McKinney also met regularly with his bosses about disproportionate discipline in violation of the 2012 Office of Civil Rights agreement.

“He complained about teachers who were suspending Black students for not having pencils, asking to use the bathroom, talking, or chewing gum – and teachers who needlessly berated Black students.”

He also complained about a staff member who hit students, including punching “a girl in the throat in a meeting with many witnesses.” The administration said there was no merit to the complaint. 

McKinney also complained about mismanagement of a $50,000 donation for student activities that was redirected to administrator salaries, a Spanish teacher who knew no Spanish, an extreme mice infestation and an afterschool program that falsely claimed it was providing services to students. 

He pushed administrators to refurbish the locker room. The school’s entire football team, which was African American, “had to strip down and change on the football field and leave their equipment on the field due to the abysmal condition of the locker room. Students were forced to strip in front of adults,” the complaint said. 

In February 2018, Executive Director Sifuentes told McKinney, “Why are you so concerned about helping these people and everyone? Why don’t you just go along with what we are doing? What do you gain from this?”

In July 2018, McKinney’s bosses at the school moved his office to a space in the basement that was “moldy with a stale stench, (and) the carpet was filthy,” the complaint said.

In that room, he immediately began coughing and wheezing from allergies and asthma. 

McKinney met with OUSD Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell in September 2018 and December 2018 about his complaints, but she took no action, according to the lawsuit.

In August 2019, McKinney was demoted, removing him from his certificated position as an assistant principal and reclassified to a classified position as a program manager. On March 17, 2020, he was told that he did not have a job for the coming year and that he was terminated due to budget cuts. 

“I didn’t have any due process,” McKinney said. “When you speak up for the students and the community, it puts a target on your back, and they come after you.”

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

Activism

Ask County Supervisors Not to Spend Millions in Tax Dollars on Oakland A’s Real Estate Deal

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

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A rendering of the proposed new A’s ballpark at the Howard Terminal site, surrounded by port cranes and warehouses. Image courtesy of MANICA Architecture.

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA) and other groups are asking local residents to attend and speak at next week’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting to oppose a proposal to spend county residents’ tax dollars to pay for the Oakland A’s massive multi-billion-dollar real estate deal at Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland. 

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

The Stadium Alliance urges community members to “let (the supervisors) know that Alameda County residents don’t want our tax dollars to pay for a private luxury development. This proposal does not include privately funded community benefits and would harm our region’s economic engine – the port- putting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs at risk.”

 

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Marin County Sheriff Sued for Illegally Sharing Drivers’ License Plate Data

This practice has violated two California laws, endangers the safety and privacy of local immigrant communities, and facilitates location tracking by police.

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An example of ALPRs (www.pasadenanow.org)

Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle has been sued for illegally sharing millions of local drivers’ license plates and location data, captured by a network of cameras his office uses, with hundreds of federal and out-of-state agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), over a dozen other federal law enforcement agencies, and more than 400 out-of-state law enforcement agencies.

This practice has violated two California laws, endangers the safety and privacy of local immigrant communities, and facilitates location tracking by police.

The suit seeks to end the sheriff’s illegal practice of giving hundreds of agencies outside California access to a database of license plate scans used to identify and track people, revealing where they live and work, when they visit friends or drop their kids at school, and when they attend religious services or protests.

The lawsuit was filed in Marin County Superior Court by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and attorney Michael T. Risher representing community activists Lisa Bennett, Cesar S. Lagleva, and Tara Evans, who are longtime Marin community members.

License plate scans occur through Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs): high-speed cameras mounted in a fixed location or atop police cars moving through the community that automatically capture all license plates that come into view, recording the exact location, date, and time that the vehicle passes by.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office scans tens of thousands of license plates each month with its ALPR system. That sensitive personal information, which includes photographs of the vehicle and sometimes its driver and passengers, is stored in a database.

The sheriff permits hundreds of out-of-state agencies and several federal entities, including the Department of Homeland Security, to run queries of a license plate against information the sheriff has collected. The agencies are also able to compare their own bulk lists of vehicle license plates of interest, known as “hot lists,” against the ALPR information collected by the sheriff’s office. 

“In the hands of police, the use of ALPR technology is a threat to privacy and civil liberties, especially for immigrants. Federal immigration agencies routinely access and use ALPR information to locate, detain, and deport immigrants. The sheriff’s own records show that Sheriff Doyle is sharing ALPR information with two of the most rogue agencies in the federal government: ICE and CBP,” said Vasudha Talla, immigrants’ rights program director at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Police should not be purchasing surveillance technology, let alone facilitating the deportation and incarceration of our immigrant communities.”

California’s S.B. 34, enacted in 2015, bars this practice. The law requires agencies that use ALPR technology to implement policies to protect privacy and civil liberties, and specifically prohibits police from sharing ALPR data with entities outside of California. 

The sheriff also violates the California Values Act (S.B. 54), also known as California’s “sanctuary” law. Enacted in 2018, the law limits the use of local resources to assist federal immigration enforcement.

“The information unveiled through this lawsuit shows that the freedoms that people think they possess in Marin County are a mirage: people cannot move about freely without being surveilled,” said Bennett. “Our county sheriff, who has sworn to uphold the law, is in fact violating it by sharing peoples’ private information with outside agencies. This has especially alarming implications for immigrants and people of color: two communities that are traditionally the targets of excessive policing, surveillance, and separation from loved ones and community through incarceration or deportation.”

The Marin County Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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The 157th Session of the AME Church’s California Annual Conference: Not Just Business as Usual

For the 157th time in history, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in California met to report at the call of their bishop, the Right Reverend Clement W. Fugh, which, for the first time was held both on-line and in person from Bethel AME Church at 916 Laguna St. in San Francisco. 

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Bishop Clement W. Fugh, Presiding Prelate of the 5th Episcopal District, ready for the 157th Session of the California Annual Conference

For the 157th time in history, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in California met to report at the call of their bishop, the Right Reverend Clement W. Fugh, which, for the first time was held both on-line and in person from Bethel AME Church at 916 Laguna St. in San Francisco. 

The renowned presiding elders, Rev. Dr. Harold R. Mayberry and Rev. Dr. Vernon S. Burroughs, middle managers of this portion of Bishop Fugh’s charge, shared the accounts of their respective territories at the AME Church’s California Annual Conference via prerecorded videos at the meeting hosted by Churches of the Sacramento Valley. 

The lead congregation from the valley was Murph-Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in North Highlands, CA, which is pastored by Rev. Dr. Carieta Cain Grizzell, whose spouse Rev. Martin Grizzell is also known for his past ministry in the Bay Area. The venue church is served by the pastoral team of Rev. Robert R. Shaw and his partner, Assistant Pastor, Rev. Ann Champion Shaw. Murph-Emmanuel and Bethel A.M.E. Church were acclaimed by Bishop Fugh for their cooperation in this session of the California Annual Conference.  

Bethel A.M.E San Francisco looked like a television set had grown into the sanctuary, complete with multiple lights and cameras. There was a technical team (in person and on-line) primarily made up of young adult members of AME churches under the purview of the bishop. The meeting was a clear, joint effort of both clergy and lay people, more than in past years. Though the California Annual Conference has long made a point of including non-cleric church members, young and old, the COVID-19 pandemic circumstances have clearly advanced the Conference’s inclusivity.  

“The Word of God is Colorblind,” said Bishop Fugh during the retirement portion of the Annual Conference which honored the retirement of the host pastor. The diversity within churches of the California Annual Conference was on display at this 157th session of this historic meeting and it was clear that the leadership encourages the welcoming of all who would like to join with the church. 

There was an apparent focus on meeting safely, with limitations on those allowed to join in person. Attestations related to COVID-19 were required of registrants and a screening process was administered at the venue. The bishop commended the venue leadership and church for the dignity that was maintained during the process. 

Registration for Zoom attendance was also a painless process and open to whomever desired to attend the Webinar. The conference was accessible on Facebook as well as YouTube. The bishop also encouraged churches to make attendance as safe as possible while keeping the process simple and focusing on a quality worship experience. Bishop Fugh set a goal for represented churches to reopen their sanctuaries by the first Sunday of November. 

This session of the California Annual Conference carried with it the long-standing traditions of the first Christian denomination founded in response to social injustice over 200 years ago. The ministries reported primarily using pre-recorded videos this year as it all followed through decently and in order. Indeed, there was a genuine spirit of love during the conference.

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