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Berryessa--The Berryessa Union School District has taken on an increasingly embattled appearance as members of the Santa Clara County Grand Jury have begun monitoring school board meetings, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has cleared the way for a second employment discrimination investigation.

As many as six Grand Jury members have shown up at recent Berryessa Board meetings, listening without comment to deliberations and privately requesting names and phone numbers from selected meeting participants. By law, the Grand Jury cannot discuss ongoing investigations, or even acknowledge that an investigation is taking place.

Berryessa School Superintendent Herbert Wadley says that while he is aware of the Grand Jury presence at recent board meetings, he has not been informed of any investigations. He says that despite the fact that he has made three public invitations to talk to Grand Jury members, none have yet approached him.

The Grand Jury is only one of Wadley's problems. Earlier this month, the San Jose office of the EEOC served a charge of discrimination against the Berryessa District in the case of Morrill Middle School teacher's aide Karen Johnston.

Johnston, who is white, says she suffered racial discrimination and retaliation because of her support of black former Morrill Middle School principal Lorna Manning, who was ousted from her job last spring [see "Principal of the Matter"], and because she lives next door to another outspoken critic of the District, Kim Adams.

Adams is the co-chairperson of Morrill's School Site Council and has been increasingly critical of the Berryessa District in general and Wadley in particular.

Much of Johnston's complaint stems from a meeting she held with Wadley near the end of the last school term. At the meeting, she says, Wadley made thinly-veiled threats against her. The meeting was also attended by Johnston's union representative, Denise Jensen, who filed documents with the EEOC in support of Johnston's complaint.

Wadley declined to respond to questions about the meeting, stating that it was "getting into things that are personnel matters and the subject of an EEOC complaint."

Johnston describes the meeting as "bizarre."

"It was sick," she says. "Something here is very wrong. They scared me. I cried all the way home."

Johnston says that harassment by teachers at Morrill began earlier this year when one teacher repeatedly followed her from class to class and made telephone inquiries with other teachers about her whereabouts and activities. Johnston says she complained to the District office about the harassment, but nothing was done to prevent it. She says she feels she was singled out for this harassment because of her support of former principal Lorna Manning, who was the target of attacks by a vocal group of Morrill teachers.

Wadley says that the Berryessa administration "takes every complaint seriously."

"Where it is appropriate, we take appropriate actions," Wadley says. "This is no different."

This is the third EEOC charge served against Berryessa this year. A charge filed by Morrill teacher Felice Feuer is still pending [see "Serious Games"], and the District settled the complaint brought by former Morrill principal Lorna Manning [see "Berryessa Blacklash"].
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

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