Teacher Fights Assignment to Rubber Room

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A policeman-turned schoolteacher claims he was removed from his classroom and confined to a storage closet for more than a month after he exposed the inadequate credentials of his high school’s principal. He claims he also was targeted because he tried to stop students from using cell phones – which are barred in school – to coordinate attacks on Asian students.

     William Aitken began teaching at South Philadelphia High School 5 years ago, he says in his federal complaint. Aitken claims that he saw at once that “Asian students were often the target of hostile and discriminatory conduct on the part of non-Asian students who terrorized the student body.”
     It escalated into mob violence when “a flash-mob of students assembled in Aitken’s classroom and viciously attacked one of his students,” he says.
     Aitken says the violent students “orchestrated their attack via cellular phones and text messages,” though cell phones “are strictly prohibited in South Philadelphia High School.”
     South Philadelphia High School’s 1,400 students are 70& African-American, 18% Asian, 6% Hispanic and 6% white, according to the complaint. Defendants LaGreta Brown, the principal, and vice principal Juanita Johnson are both African-American.
     Aitken claims the racial animus against Asian-Americans extended into the school’s top administration.
     “On or about Sept. 1, 2009, defendant Brown introduced herself to the employees of South Philadelphia High School,” the complaint states. “During her introductory remarks, she made derogatory remarks concerning the school’s Asian population in which she expressed her desire to break up what she referred to as the ‘Asian dynasty.’
     “By and through her comments, Brown contributed to, and tacitly approved of, the hostile environment in which these students attempted to receive an education.
     “Such hostilities erupted into raw violence on or about Oct. 5, 2009, when a flash-mob of students and others assembled in Aitken’s classroom and viciously attacked one of his students.
     “The flash-mob orchestrated their attack via cellular phones and text messages. Some flash-mob members were students who communicated via cellular phones to let non-student outsiders into the building.”
     After the attack, Aitken says, he sought a meeting with principal Brown, who “freely and explicitly assumed responsibility for the incident and assured him that such physical altercations would not happen again,” according to the complaint.
     But Aitken says that Brown proceeded to “publicly denigrate Aitken’s teaching abilities and humiliate him in front of the entire body of teachers at a common preparation meeting while also making no attempt to curb the rampant use of cell phones by students.”
     Aitken adds, “the utter disregard of Aitken’s warnings eventually produced tragic consequences when approximately thirty Asian students were viciously attacked by a mob of African-American students who coordinated with each other via cellular phones.”
     Aitken claims that vice principal Juanita Johnson then retaliated against him by, among other things, “falsifying a document to add a negative performance review to his file, ordering the confiscation of his school-issued computer” and having a “uniformed police officer forcibly enter his classroom and threaten him.”
     Aitken says he complained to the Pennsylvania Board of Education, when, “through a series of communications with their employees, [he] learned that Brown did not possess the legally required valid certification to serve as school principal.”
     Aitken says he gave that information to his union representative and “Brown resigned as principal the very next day.”
     After Brown resigned, Aitken says, he was “forcibly removed by police officers from his classroom in front of his astonished students and told to report to the office of Regional Superintendent Michael Silverman, who told Aitken to report to the ‘Comprehensive High School.'”
     Aitken’s complaint describes the place as “a warehouse for teachers in the throes of the disciplinary process” designed to “deprive the teachers of the opportunity to pursue their chosen profession.”
     For more than a month, Aitken says, he “was forced to remain inside a windowless, inadequately ventilated electrical storage closet for the entirety of the eight hour school day,” and he remains there to this day, “continually supervised by a district secretary.”
     Such rooms, often called rubber rooms, have become a national issue after it was revealed that dozens of teachers in New York City schools have languished in them, sometimes for years, on full pay, as the school system refuses to either fire or reinstate them.
     Aitken sued the School District of Philadelphia, its superintendent, a regional superintendent, and Brown and Jackson. He seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations, conspiracy, defamation, whistleblower violations and due process violations.
     He is represented by Thomas Jennings.

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