Two African American educators at St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma, California are saying that race played a part in the decision to lay them off from the school. However, the principal of the school is standing by the administration, saying that the decision to release four employees in total was purely based on budget cuts. The contention led to protests outside of the private school that resulted in confrontations and heated words.
"Our goal is not to bash the school in any way. The purpose is to better the school," Kinyatta Reynolds, who was laid off in June as the PE teacher at the North Bay high school, told ABC7 News.
Her lawyer is claiming that she, along with Joanna Paun, the former Dean of Counseling, were discriminated against because they are Black women.
"We are alleging claims of race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against the diocese," says attorney Rebecca Kagin.
"I'm a counselor and I'm the only one in my department and Kinyatta was the only Black teacher," Paun said, according to the news station.
A rally was held outside the St. Vincent de Paul Church on Sunday (August 2) as protesters showed up days after a letter was written by school alumni condemning the firings as racially biased. Counter-demonstrations were also organized by those in support of the school’s decision.
"Race played no part in the layoff of four individuals at all. It came primarily down to the reduction in revenue and it was a necessary move to reduce our administration," says St. Vincent de Paul High Principal Patrick Daly.
Daly claims that the student body has become much more diverse since when he first began leading the school three years ago. "Before I got there, we didn't have a Black student on campus and this freshman class we had roughly 11% of our students that were Black/African American, so we have a real focus on that," he said.
Paun and Reynolds, however, want the opportunity to sit down with the diocese to further discuss the situation and their thoughts about the history of discrimination they believe is still a part of the school. While a formal lawsuit has yet been filed, the pair’s attorney says it’s possible that litigation could come in the future.