Danielle Thompson and her mother Karen Barnes sued the Oakland Unified School District, Danielle’s U.S. history teacher Kenneth O’Keith, and the high school principal and superintendent, on Feb. 19 in Alameda County Court.
Danielle claims that after O’Keith declared during a classroom discussion that “bestiality is like homosexuality,” she raised her hand and waited to be called on before saying: “A man loving a man is not the same as a man having sex with an animal.”
O’Keith raised his voice and told Danielle to “shut her mouth and stop talking immediately,” she says. That was on Oct. 2, 2013, according to the complaint.
The next day, Danielle says, when she entered O’Keith’s classroom, “he once again demanded, in front of the class, that she ‘shut [her] mouth, keep quiet and not talk in [his] classroom.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
In November, Danielle’s mother says, O’Keith notified her that Danielle was failing the class, though her prior performance had not been deficient in any way.
Barnes says she sent O’Keith an email and asked why her daughter’s grade was much lower than on her previous progress report, but he did not respond. She says O’Keith did not respond when she went through the school guidance counselor, either.
Danielle claims that after her mother asked to speak to O’Keith, the teacher said, again in front of the class, that Danielle’s mother wanted him to call her but that he “would not be calling anyone.”
Escalating her efforts, Barnes says she contacted defendant Staci-Ross Morrison, the principal, who made no direct attempt to address the situation.
After that call, Danielle says, O’Keith confronted her again in class and yelled, “Your work is crap.”
Barnes says she eventually secured a private conference with O’Keith by showing up in his classroom. She says she asked to see physical copies of Danielle’s work in the class, as well as the rubrics and grade sheets by which O’Keith calculated grades.
She says O’Keith refused her requests, and he said he does not have any written materials that outline his grading policy.
So Barnes says went to the Oakland Unified School District and asked whether Danielle’s grade could be improved or whether she could be removed from O’Keith’s class, and the district denied both requests.
She claims that the denials were “misrepresentations of OUSD policy and were made to cover up the illegal, unethical and unconstitutional actions of Mr. O’Keith.”
Danielle got a D for the term.
She and her mom claim that the school failed to properly investigate the incident and that, after a period of homeschooling, Danielle was forced to transfer schools “because she was too traumatized to be in a classroom with the perpetrator where OUSD insisted on placing her.”
The defendants could not be reached for comment Friday.
Danielle and her mom seek damages for violations of civil rights, the Constitution, the California Education Code, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.
They are represented by Edwin Wilson Jr., of Alameda.
- Should They?