Students at Oregon middle school walk out after Black teachers placed on leave

Dance teacher Damon Keller and librarian Phyllis Harris were placed on leave due to a “personnel matter,” the district said.

Students flocked out of a Portland, Oregon middle school by the hundreds on Friday in support of two Black faculty members who were recently placed on administrative leave for reasons students say are unfair.

Ockley Green Middle School, which opened in 2016 and boasts one of the most diverse student bodies in the city, is under scrutiny from students and parents after dance teacher Damon Keller and librarian Phyllis Harris were placed on leave due to what the district said was a “personnel matter,” according to Portland Mercury.

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Portland Public Schools reportedly declined the outlet’s request for further specification regarding the decision that prompted students to march around campus on Friday shouting “Black teachers matter!”

Per the report, concerns surrounding the school’s inclusivity of staffers of color are not new, according to Chris Riser, a Black teacher who stepped down from his teaching role at Ockley Green earlier in 2022.

“The issues with administration go all the way back to the first year of consolidation (as a middle school),” said Riser, who now teaches at a charter school which specializes in culturally-specific curricula for students of color, Portland Mercury reported.

“At the same time the district is talking about retention, they’re actively hemorrhaging educators of color,” added Riser, who was also placed on leave himself in 2018 for assisting in another student-organized protest.

Ockley Green parent Shannon Shambaugh echoed Riser’s sentiments and mentioned an alleged lack of adequate building maintenance.

“Ockley is one of only a handful of minority-majority schools in the state and the building is literally falling apart,” Shambaugh wrote in a letter, per Portland Mercury. She also said there are “huge class sizes and unfilled teaching positions.”

“Students cannot learn in this environment,” Shambaugh added, the outlet reported. “The principal does not seem to have experience with culturally responsive instruction or an understanding of how white supremacy culture operates and how it has caused great harm in North Portland. PPS has invested in at least 15 YEARS of racial equity training for district staff and THIS is the best they can do??!!”

The school is facing additional complaints stemming from a student-recorded video allegedly showing vice principal Spencer Crum entering a girls bathroom and locker room, an incident for which students protested in March, according to the outlet.

Crum is reportedly also named in a federal Title IX complaint filed earlier this year regarding accusations that a P.E. teacher was unfair and dismissive of female students, the outlet reported.

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