Assistant Principal Quits, Says School Promotes Racism

Education: Former Channel Islands High administrator says he may sue district. Trustees have previously rejected similar charges.

OXNARD—After months of feuding with school district officials over how students were treated and his handling of campus protests against racial discrimination, the assistant principal at Channel Islands High School said Thursday he has resigned and is considering suing the district.

Chris Gonzalez said he left Nov. 24 after accepting a job outside the Oxnard Union High School District.

Since he joined the district in fall 1997, Gonzalez has engaged in an often-public dispute with Channel Islands Principal Jim Nielsen.

Earlier this year, Gonzalez and 10 other Latino leaders had alleged that the school violated the state education code and students’ civil rights during on-campus protests against Proposition 227, which limits bilingual education statewide.

An August investigation by the school district found no merit to the charges and affirmed support for Nielsen, whom Gonzalez accuses of promoting the poor treatment of students.

“I will not be a party to the kind of organization that wants me to violate students’ rights,” Gonzalez said Thursday from his Woodland Hills home.

Gonzalez, 55, said that he was told to leave his job immediately after he told Nielsen that he had found a new position.

School district trustees, who accepted Gonzalez’s resignation at their board meeting Wednesday night, said they maintain their loyalty to Nielsen.

“Mr. Nielsen has my complete support,” said trustee Nancy Koch. “He is a wonderful principal.”

But Gonzalez argues that Nielsen instills fear in students rather than respect. He accuses the principal of having a bias against Latino students and unfairly suspending too many Latinos when they protested the passage of Proposition 227.

He also said that Nielsen condones the “manhandling” of students who get into fights.

Gonzalez said that when he challenged these practices, district administrators began working to push him out of his job. According to Gonzalez, Nielsen asked him to resign as early as March.

“They tried to make me out to be a poor performer,” said Gonzalez. “My issue was when I stood up and said, ‘This is wrong,’ and the word got out that I was there to be an agent of change , I had to be taken out.”

Gonzalez said he has filed a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and is also considering a lawsuit against the district.

Wayne Edmonds, the school district’s director of personnel, said Thursday he was unable to discuss the issue.

“We don’t make comments regarding personnel matters,” Edmonds said.

Nielsen and other district officials could not be reached for comment.

Gonzalez said he began his job search after the stress began to take a toll on his health.

Since his departure, he has taken time off and just recently returned from a four-day cruise to the Bahamas.

He would not disclose the location of his new job except to say it is as an assistant principal in Southern California.

The incidents at Channel Islands High, said Gonzalez, have not been his first involving discrimination.

According to Gonzalez, he challenged a poor performance evaluation delivered by an Army colonel while he was serving in the military in the mid-1970s. The superior, Gonzalez said, had called him racially derogatory names. Gonzalez also said he fought for five years until the evaluation was overturned.

Then, while working on his doctorate at the University of San Francisco in 1985, Gonzalez helped a group of teachers file a discrimination suit against the Oakland Unified School District, he said. According to Gonzalez, the teachers ultimately won the suit, which resulted in more positions in the district being filled by Latinos.

“If you consider me a whiner, I’m a whiner,” said Gonzalez. “I consider that I am trying to follow the law.”

Gonzalez said he wrote his dissertation on racism in America. He is also the executive director of the Military Diversity Institute in San Rafael and is now lobbying Congress to recruit more Latinos in the armed forces, he said.

“I’ve been subjected to racism . I know what it looks like,” he said. “Today, it’s more subtle and harder to fight.”

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