A group of White teachers at a Philadelphia elementary school have filed federal lawsuits against school officials and a Black former principal who, they claim, discriminated against them because of their race and implied that they were unfit to teach African American students.
According to the Courthouse News Service, suits filed May 10 by four instructors at the predominantly Black Mifflin Elementary School allege that during his one-year as principal, Charles Ray III, who is Black, created a hostile environment at the school by establishing an “atmosphere of distrust and favoritism.”
The teachers, Nicole Boyd, Debra McKibben Marenbach, Marta Ciccimaro and Colleen Yarnell, claim that racial discrimination is rampant throughout the school and Ray severed their relationships with the students by randomly switching room assignments and denying access to school supplies. Additionally, they said the principal changed their schedules without notice and gave them poor performance marks because they are White.
Mifflin ‘s student body is roughly 270 students, 86 percent of them Black and 85 percent of them poor, according to school district data. The school is located in the East Falls neighborhood, a mostly White enclave that includes former Gov. Ed Rendell and former Sen. Arlen Spector as residents. The Wbite school age residents are largely in private school.
The instructors still remain on staff. Ray worked in the district from 2008 to 2009.
The group also claims that Ray often let African-American instructors disregard the school’s rules and regulations without punishing them. The suits claim that Ray forced employees to read an article instructing teachers that “Whites do not have the ability to teach African Americans” as part of a professional development exercise.
When the instructors tried to complain to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union, they allege that Ray retaliated against them and they became the targets of an investigation that sought to intimidate, harass and ultimately find a basis for firing them.
“Charles Ray III consistently stated that he had a relationship with top school officials indicating that his conduct was part of an approved policy or was part of a pattern of practices sanctioned and supported by ‘higher authority’” the suit states, according to the Associated Press.
The suits were filed against the former principal, the Philadelphia School District, the teachers’ union and an instructor who Ray allegedly ordered to access the teachers’ personnel files to find information. All four plaintiffs are seeking over $150,000 in damages.
According to CNN, district spokeswoman Shana Kemp said that they haven’t received notice of the suits.
“Once we have been formally served, we will take a close look at the allegations and respond accordingly,” Kemp said in a statement. “The district’s goal is to maintain an atmosphere of fairness and equality for all, and allegations of discrimination, on any basis, are taken seriously.”
Racial problems have plagued Mifflin in the past. A White principal left the school in 2007 after Black parents complained about an administrator who said Muslim students looked like “flying nuns.” Also, in 2008, a mural on the side of the school was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.