Monday, July 11, 2011

Five White Teachers And One Aleut Teacher Sue Annette Island School District In Metlakatla, Alaska, Claiming They Were Terminated Because Of Their Race

It is just now being reported that back in February 2011, six teachers filed a lawsuit in Ketchikan Superior Court against the Annette Island School District in Metlakatla, Alaska, claiming they were terminated because of their race. Five of the teachers are White, and the other one is Alaska Native (Aleut); they are identified as Jennifer Erbelding, Shannon Dodge, Rebecca Scribner, Nevada Benton, Jodie Taylor and Mary Montgomery. Metlakatla is Alaska's only American Indian reservation, a Tsimshian community. The story actually originated with the Ketchikan Daily News, but it's a paid subscription website.

In 2010, the school board decided not to retain the six teachers, while choosing to retain retain two other teachers, one who is Tsimshian and the other who allegedly has "personal ties" to the school district's superintendent, Eugene Avey. The unsubstantiated implication is that the latter teacher may be having an intimate relationship with Avery, which has been denied by the district. Upon being notified of their non-retention, the six teachers immediately proffered their resignations in the hope that their employment record would show a voluntary resignation rather than an involuntary non-retention; the latter is considered to be more damaging to career prospects.

The "smoking gun" in this case, though, may be a memorandum released to the community by the school district after the resignations prompted discussion in Metlakatla. According to the teachers' attorney, Terry Venneberg, the memo notes the district's strategic plan contains a fundamental belief that a major emphasis is to hire locally and keep highly effective teachers. It also notes a preference for hiring local Alaska Native/American Indian teachers. It further states that in considering sovereign Native rights, the district tries to provide equity in local hire, and that they have been receiving one local Native application annually in the past two years.

This is what may have triggered the suit. Venneberg says that although Metlakatla is an Indian reservation, the Annette Island School District is a political subdivision of the State of Alaska, and thus is subject to state laws regarding hiring practices. State law disallows any discrimination based upon race. What's interesting is that the Indians aren't just willing to discriminate against Whites, they're also willing to discriminate against another protected class, Aleuts.

The district denies the allegations and has asked for a summary dismissal. The district also says it made its decision because of performance issues, not race. Furthermore, the district also notes that since the plaintiffs were not tenured, they were not automatically entitled to a renewed contract,

The Alaska Court System database indicates that the case, designated 1KE-11-00069CI, will go to a jury trial before Judge William B. Carey beginning February 6th, 2012.

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