A group of about 30 parents and teachers organized by the United Educators of San Francisco teachers union gathered outside Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School in the southeastern Portola district Tuesday to speak out against what they say is a negative environment at the school, and level bullying accusations against one administrator in particular, CBS San Francisco reports.
Tobias Cain, a school security guard who was transferred out of MLK this summer, referenced an alleged incident in February, during which he was injured when principal Natalie Eberhard fell on him as she sat on a distraught student in an effort to restrain the teen, The Bay Citizen reports.
Teacher Linda Cooks corroborated Cain’s story and said she was transferred after reporting the incident to the San Francisco Unified School District. Nancy Filalao, a former school secretary of 27 years, claims she was also dismissed after calling 911 that day after following up on the February incident, CBS San Francisco reports. According to Filalao, nothing was done to address the situation, either by way of the police department or mayor’s office.
The Bay Citizen reports that district officials said they reviewed a video of the incident and found Cain’s version of events to be false.
“That was fully investigated by the district and found to be not truthful,” Eberhard told The Bay Citizen Tuesday. “Did I restrain a student? Yes. Did I sit on a student? Absolutely not.”
The district has not released the video.
The embattled school has seen its fair share of unrest over the years. According to a Bay Citizen report, police officers responded to 149 calls at Martin Luther King last school year, including 13 for battery and 12 fights. Two security guards sustained injuries and ended up on extended medical leave. In 2011, several children ate cubes of rat poison they found in their classroom after mistaking it for candy. Three years ago, two boys raped a female student in the gym during school hours.
Eberhard and Assistant Principal Anthony Braxton were brought in last fall to clean up the mess, but according to teachers' union representative Allan Brill, they have only exacerbated tensions, the San Francisco Examiner reports.
Since Eberhard took over the top administrator post, 17 staff members have been let go, union representative Judy Gerber said at Tuesday’s demonstration. This number includes 15 teachers, who protesters say were forced out through punitive evaluation processes after speaking out about the school’s problems, CBS San Francisco reports.
In the meantime, student suspensions have skyrocketed. According to The Bay Citizen, a letter sent from MLK’s counseling team to the union stated that two months into last school year, Eberhard and Braxton had signed off on 80 suspensions. By comparison, 82 suspensions were issued throughout the entirety of the previous school year. In February, dismissed teacher James Galgano told the Board of Education that the number of suspensions had reached 164.
The district has released a statement in support of Eberhard, maintaining that the increased suspensions were indicative of the new principal cracking down on disciplinary problems, and pointing out that test scores in the notoriously low-performing school are on the rise.