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Follow-up: Berryessa Blacklash

[whitespace] Berryessa--Just when everyone thought that the various sides had come to a working agreement to begin solving racial problems in the troubled Berryessa School District, [see "Principal of the Matter," June 19].

representatives on all sides suddenly find that they are in agreement on only two points. First, that a recent action taken against former principal Lorna Manning could derail a promising proposed agreement between black organizations and the district; and second, that they can't fully discuss it.

Lorna Manning says she can't talk because her recently-concluded settlement with the school district includes a gag order. Berryessa Assistant Superintendent Pat Stelwagon says that any statement about the new actions against Manning should properly be discussed by Manning herself. And Debra Watkins, speaking for three local African American organizations, says no formal statement will be made by those groups until leaders can meet and discuss what she calls "a bombshell" and "a major setback."

What is at stake is an arrangement that calls for an increase in the hiring and promotion of African American teachers, as well as the development of a plan to increase black student achievement and lower suspension rates.

Earlier this year, Manning, an African-American, was fired from her position as principal of Morrill Middle School. That action caused several local black organizations to call for an investigation into the Berryessa District's policies toward minority employees and students. Manning then filed a discrimination complaint against the district with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and several local and state agencies began formal investigations of their own.

Sometime last month, Manning and the district reached a formal settlement of their differences, [[reportedly]] including a stipulation that each side terminate any actions against the other. Shortly afterwards, representatives of the San Jose Branch of the NAACP, the Santa Clara County Alliance of Black Educators, and the locally-based African American Parent Coalition reached a verbal agreement with Berryessa to jointly work to solve racial issues in the district.

But late last month, Berryessa Superintendent Herbert Wadley informed Manning by letter that "[A]though we have entered into a settlement agreement," he was filing a notification with the California on Teaching Credentialing that Manning had been let go because of "an allegation of misconduct."

Wadley wrote that he was required to make such a report under state regulation "even if the allegations are withdrawn and the parties enter into a settlement agreement." Metro received a copy of Wadley's letter from a source familiar with the Manning situation.

In an interview before the settlement was reached, Manning told Metro that no charges of misconduct had ever been filed against her during her nine months with the Berryessa District, and said she had been informed by Superintendent Wadley that her year-to-year contract had not been renewed only because she and Wadley did not "work well together."

Stelwagon believes Wadley's note to the state agency and the proposed agreement with the black organizations are "two separate issues," although she says that "I imagine it [the new Manning situation] would have the potential" to scuttle the agreement.

Debra Watkins, President of the Black Educators Alliance, says she is "stunned" and "greatly dismayed" by Wadley's action, and says that "on the surface, at any rate, it appears to be vindictive.

"It was Manning's firing that got us into this morass in the first place. I thought we had put that behind us and were moving into a phase of working on increasing the number of African American personnel in Berryessa and the ending the inequity in black student achievement and discipline."

Watkins and leaders of the NAACP and the African American Parents Coalition have withdrawn the issuance of a public letter that praised the Berryessa District for "the very amicable spirit with which [the District] embraced our ideas."

Aminah Jahi, President of the San Jose Branch of the NAACP, says that no joint projects between African American groups and the district will be possible "until we get a better understanding of the misconduct wording" in Wadley's letter about Manning.

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