Yvette Felarca during Wednesday night's board meeting. Image: BUSD
Yvette Felarca speaking at a BUSD meeting in October.  Image: BUSD
Yvette Felarca speaking at a BUSD meeting in October.  Image: BUSD

Six weeks after the Berkeley Unified School District placed Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca on administrative leave “pending an investigation into concerns that have been raised,” the teacher will be returning to her classroom.

BUSD Spokesman Charles Burress confirmed Tuesday that Felarca would be back teaching on Wednesday, Nov. 2. He would not say who reached that decision or why, citing “personnel issues.”

“I’m back to work tomorrow!” Felarca posted Tuesday on her Facebook page. “Thank you, everyone and congratulations to all — this victory belongs to all of us!”

Felarca said in an email that her restitution came after a Tuesday meeting between Shanta Driver, her attorney from the group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), Cathy Campbell, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Superintendent Donald Evans and other members of the administration.

Felarca and BAMN members said her forced leave had been connected to her actions at a counter-protest against white supremacists in Sacramento on June 26. A television station filmed Felarca taunting and hitting a neo-Nazi attending the rally led by the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist extremist group. Felarca, along with a number of others, was injured in the confrontation. Film clips show her with a head wound.

The next day, BUSD received an anonymous email threatening to harm students if Felarca was not fired. As a safety precaution, students at camps at King Middle School were sent home for the day. The culprit has not been caught.

Four days after the Nazi rally, Felarca received a disciplinary letter that docked her pay and “ranted against her political beliefs, affiliations, and off-duty activities,” according to a lawsuit Felarca filed against BUSD on Oct. 26. The district placed her on involuntary leave on Sept. 21 by escorting her out of a staff meeting, according to the lawsuit.

After BUSD put her on leave, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers filed a grievance with the district. Felarca, her supporters, and BAMN also held rallies outside school board meetings protesting the district’s actions. Felarca and her supporters also spoke during the meetings and at one point were sufficiently disruptive that they shut down the school board meeting.

In the lawsuit, Felarca said she had only received positive evaluations in the 10 years she has been teaching, yet she was placed on leave.

“Defendants are conducting a political witch-hunt against her, retaliating and discriminating against her for her political views, affiliations and off-duty political activities,” read a portion of the suit, which was filed in federal court…. “The District is punishing Felarca for extending her devotion to the Latina/o, black, Muslim, other minority and immigrant students she teaches to off-duty efforts to defend their rights and basic safety outside the classroom, most importantly from the rise in racism and far-right violence that have accompanied the Trump presidential campaign.”

Ironically, Felarca told a Sacramento television station reporter at the Nazi rally: “There is no free speech for fascists. They do not have the right to organize for genocide.”

Felarca said even though she has been reinstated, the lawsuit will proceed. In an email sent to her supporters Tuesday, Felarca urged them to attend the next court hearing  in San Francisco Thursday, Dec. 8 at 1:30 p.m.

A fundraising campaign raised $3,305 for Felarca’s defense.

Felarca’s supporters were overjoyed by the news that she will be returning to the classroom.

“Every teacher wins today!!” wrote Misa Joo on Felarca’s Facebook page. “Thank you for never giving up!! You have made being a teacher true safer. Teachers will be able to bring their whole beautiful self in and not leave ourselves outside the school door. Leave bigotry out. Bring truth in.”

Felarca sent out an email to her supporters asking them to come to the BUSD school board meeting at 7 p.m. to “Address some very important issues that are still outstanding in my case, including political discrimination, violations of due process, free speech and academic freedom, unjust disciplines that the District is still trying to issue against me, and the District’s continued refusal to restore my back pay.”

Felarca supporters shut down school board meeting (10.05.16)
Berkeley school administration places Yvette Felarca on administrative leave (10.26.16)
Petition to fire Berkeley teacher garners 500 signatures (07.14.16)
Anonymous email threats sent after Sacramento rally linked to teacher (06.26.16)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...