Berkeley Unified has often said the actions of Yvette Felarca, a teacher at King Middle school and a radical activist, have prompted deluges of calls and emails demanding that the district fire the educator.
New records released by BUSD reveal some of those messages, including an email from a neo-Nazi group, a message threatening violent right-wing retaliation, and a few emails apparently from Berkeley parents.
The emails constitute the final batch of records the school district has handed over to Judicial Watch, the national right-wing organization that requested them. In 2017, Judicial Watch asked for communications between King and BUSD employees referencing Felarca, as well as between her group, By Any Means Necessary, and antifa. Judicial Watch frequently files records requests and lawsuits seeking information on liberal and radical figures, most famously when it pursued Hillary Clinton’s private emails.
Felarca sued BUSD to try to stop the district from fulfilling Judicial Watch’s request, but was unsuccessful. Berkeleyside requested all the records sent to the organization, and received the last set Wednesday.
The biggest blast of emails came in February 2017, when Felarca appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to defend her role in “shutting down” Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned speech at UC Berkeley earlier that month.
Several of the newly released emails are from Fox viewers who say they learned about Felarca from the segment.
“I do not live in your district, or even in your state,” said a message sent that evening. “However, her interview, and the general character is so disturbing, I can not help but write and express my concern for the children that are under her care and entrusted to her for an education!”
The new set of records likely only includes a fraction of the messages sent to the school district, as Judicial Watch’s request only covers emails forwarded by, or shared among, Berkeley Unified staff. The district has previously said BUSD was inundated with calls and emails following the Fox appearance. In a previously released email, King Principal Janet Levenson told the superintendent her secretary had stopped answering the phone after receiving 97 calls the morning after the segment aired.
The district was also flooded with messages in June 2016, after a video emerged of Felarca appearing to hit someone at a neo-Nazi demonstration in Sacramento that summer. Felarca has been charged with felony assault connected to that event.
That month, neo-Nazi group The National Socialist Movement emailed Levenson asking for “some sort of disciplinary measures” against Felarca’s “potentially illegal, and most certainly anti-American activities.”
On its website, The National Socialist Movement calls itself a “white civil rights organization,” promoting “white separation.” Membership is restricted to “non-Semitic heterosexuals of European descent.”
“I’m bringing this message to you directly as a courtesy before we go to the press, and perhaps in order to avoid making this public. It is not our intent to shame you, or bring negativity up on the school district, however we cannot simply allow this behavior to go unchecked,” the email read.
Another message, in February 2017, contained a more explicit threat, said an unnamed King teacher in an email to Levenson and BUSD technology director Jay Nitschke.
“So, your school is now the home of people who not only advocate violence, but actually commit it,” said the email the teacher appears to be referencing. “You all better start thinking about the fact that the people on the right ARE THE PEOPLE WITH THE GUNS! You DON’T want to start violence with them. Pretty soon, the more violence you all commit, the more we will get FUCKING PISSED and fight back. And that will be the day that you rue.”
Someone who works at King, whose name is redacted in the records, responded to that email less than an hour later.
“You seem to have a lot of anger and little grasp of our school. I can disagree with Ms. Felarca’s actions outside of school and know she is a great teacher,” the author wrote in the lengthy response. “I need to get back to grading (as you know a teachers’ job (sic) is never done) and I have no time for people that write phrases in all capitals (something else we teach our students not to do).”
Some Berkeley voices join national chorus; others have supported Felarca
Amid the out-of-state emails are a few messages appearing to come from concerned Berkeley residents and parents. Their names and email addresses have been redacted, so Berkeleyside has not confirmed their identities.
“I believe that our children, particularly at middle school age, need the space and information to develop their own points of view,” one person wrote. “I strongly believe that issues of social justice are well addressed in BUSD’s curriculum through all grades. My opposition to Ms. Felarca stems not from her personal politics, but rather from her documented behavior out of the classroom, and her documented absence from the classroom itself.”
In October 2016, someone associated with King emailed School Board member Ty Alper with concerns about a morning rally apparently planned by Felarca in front of the school. The author referenced an anonymous shooting threat sent to the school the previous summer after the Sacramento rally in June. The district relocated two summer camps held on the campus when that threat was received.
In the October email, the author asked, “How could she even think of showing up at King now??? Does she have a permit? I’m urging my…kids to stay away from the rally and I’m going to email Yvette tonight asking her to change her plans.”
“Thank you very much for writing,” Alper said in response. “We are extremely limited in what we can say publicly about this matter, but I appreciate hearing your perspective very much.”
Felarca was out on administrative leave at the time. That same month, October 2016, supporters of Felarca, including several students and parents who said she was an excellent teacher, shut down a School Board meeting, demanding her reinstatement. Felarca was returned to the classroom the following month, and she currently teaches part-time at King.
BUSD staff has often declined to speak in any detail on the record about the district’s response to Felarca’s actions and the criticism of the teacher, saying it’s a private personnel issue. The district does not have a policy on teachers facing criminal charges, but if she is convicted of the Sacramento felony, the state will revoke her teaching credential, according to a spokesman with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Felarca has criticized the release of the emails to Judicial Watch, accusing the school district, in a lawsuit, of working in concert with the far-right to “police public employees.” The legal challenge postponed the release of the records, but U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled in October 2018 that the emails were unquestionably public record.
The emails were released in batches, based on negotiations between the parties. The first set, released shortly after the judge’s ruling, contained the emails Felarca felt most comfortable releasing, according to BUSD. Those emails were from often-exasperated district employees and board members, discussing the public reaction to Felarca’s actions and how the district should handle the criticism.
Judicial Watch documented the process of Felarca’s lawsuit on its website, but, as yet, the organization does not appear to have publicized any of the released emails.