Law Academy students at De Anza High fight to keep teacher’s job

Students from Richmond’s De Anza High School, along with their parents, protested in front of the school early Monday morning to help a teacher keep her job.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) announced during a board meeting last week that several teachers will not get their contracts renewed for the next school year. One of the teachers is Tahitia Dean, De Anza’s Law Academy instructor of two years.

Because both the school’s administrators and district officials said they “cannot discuss” the reasons for Dean’s non-renewal of contract, protestors speculated that Dean was a victim of school politics.

Law Academy students participated in a mock trial at the courthouse in Martinez recently. On their way home, their bus broke down and they had to wait for an hour for another bus to come. At the time, mock trial coaches, students said, left them outside during the cold evening. But Dean and another guardian stayed with them, students said. When the next bus came, it smelled like marijuana, students said. They said they felt unsafe riding the bus, but with everyone exhausted, they still took the bus home.

Law Academy students said they decided to send an e-mail complaint to school administrators and the mock trial organizers about their experience. The next day, students said, Dean was informed of her non-reelection for the following school year. Students said she was “blamed” for their complaints.

But WCCUSD communications director Marcus Walton said that non-reelection of teachers is a usual process that happens every year. “This is a personnel issue. The district cannot, by state law, discuss this,” said Walton. “This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last.”

“Unless you can offer us compelling reasons that shows Ms. Dean is not the excellent teacher we think she is, then we want her back,” said Pamela Fields, one of the parents at the protest.

Fields said that Dean has been instrumental in children’s academic and social development. “You don’t want kids who don’t have aspirations. It’s not good for the community. So I think that’s why the parents are behind it,” Fields said of why parents are calling for Dean’s reinstatement. “They’ve seen differences in their kids and they want these guys to do the right thing.”

Mika Thompson, one of Dean’s students, said that she did not think of going to college until Dean inspired her, convincing her “that college is definitely the way to go and it needs to happen.”

Ariel Vega, another student, said that the protest was about their voices getting heard. “They told us to speak, we spoke and they chose not hear us, so that’s what we’re fighting for.”

For now, these future lawyers will have to wait to see if the school district will overturn their decision.

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