California Educator

August/September 2023

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J U S T I C E I S S L O W , but sure — this held true in April when an arbitrator over- turned a wrong ful suspension levied on a beloved 30-year San Jose educator. Willow Glen High School history and AP psycholog y t each er Mar y Jef fri e s defended her students from adults who came on campus without permission ped- dling anti-LGBTQ+ messages and starting arguments during a 2021 incident. She was punished with a five-day suspension without pay and immediately went to San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA) for assistance and support. "I was stunned when the district said five days suspension, and so was SJTA leadership," says Jeffries. "ey said it was an outrageous reaction." e incident began when adults from a nearby church demonstrated along the school's perimeter, taunting students with anti-LGBTQ+ messages and using a bullhorn to amplify their homophobic speech. eir actions attracted students, who started engaging with the adults. School management said that as long as the adults stayed off campus, there was nothing they could do. A couple days later, two of the anti- L GBT Q + e x tre m i st s re tu r n e d t o th e school and resumed taunting and shout- ing at students, this time walking onto campus without permission and escalat- ing the situation. From her second-floor classroom, Jeffries watched the situation unfold and knew she had to intervene. "I went down because I wanted the kids to know I see them and I support them," says Jeffries, who added that the adults were antagonizing a group of students who are LGBTQ+. "Management basically felt that we're supposed to do nothing. If it was another group (being a tt a c ke d) , I d on' t kn ow that it would've played out that way." W hen Jef fries arrived , th e situ ation wa s t en se and very loud. She stood w i t h t h e s t u d e n t s a n d redirected the energ y to keep the peace. When the bell rang, students went to class and the situation c a l m e d w i t h o u t m a j o r incident, but that wasn't the end of it for Jeffries. Despite ample video evidence captured by students, an assistant principal created his own ver- sion of what happened that day, claiming that Jeffries had shouted profanity at the extremists and put her hands on them. is assistant principal had previously worked at a church that also adhered to Suspension overturned, district admonished By Julian Peeples Arbitrator Sides with Beloved Educator Vindicated: anti-LGBTQ+ views, and based on his version of what had transpired, the dis- trict eventually handed down a five-day suspension to the dedicated educator who had never been disciplined in her 20 years at the school. " The suspension was based on lies. Somebody went after me and it was polit- ical," says Jeffries, who is an out educator. "I thought I was stopping someone who didn't belong on campus. e district had no plan. e school had no plan. We need to stand up against hate on campus." SJTA rallied around Jeffries, with the lo cal 's exe cutive b o ard unanimously voting to take the matter to binding arbi- tration. "SJTA is committed to defending every single member against mistreatment by administrators," says educator and SJTA site representative Michelle Robles. "is experience forces us to question whether we have a partner in district management who we can trust to treat our members fairly and justly." e arbitrator agreed that Jeffries was wronged by district management, spe- c i f i c al ly c al lin g o ut th e assistant superintendent who oversaw San Jose Uni- fied's $20,000 investigation for failing to adequately e x a m i n e t h e i n c i d e n t . All four of management's ch arge s a gain st Jef fri e s were throw n out by th e a r b i t ra t o r a n d s h e w a s completely exonerated. "The taint of the inves- tigation and subsequent discipline undermines the validity of the final decision," the arbitra- tor's report states. "Moreover, the charges simply aren't supported by the evidence record … the district's five-day suspension without pay is hereby rescinded." At a San Jose Unified School Board meeting following the arbitrator's decision, Willow Glen High parent 43 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 A Mary Jeffries

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