Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times -Jordan High School teacher Karen Salazar, center is greeted with cheers during an after-school rally to protest her contract not being renewed. Karen Salazar was let go from Jordan High. Other instructors say they plan to resign or transfer in protest.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 12, 2008 - udents and fellow educators are rallying behind a fired Jordan High School teacher they say was sacked for encouraging political activism among her students.
About 60 students rallied Wednesday at the Watts campus, while a colleague of the fired teacher said he and 15 other instructors planned to resign or transfer to other schools to protest the dismissal of Karen Salazar, a second-year English teacher.
The dust-up has gone digital as well. Salazar backers have posted videos on the website YouTube. The postings, which have attracted thousands of hits, intersperse music, outraged protesters and interviews, as well as statements from the outspoken educator.
"You embody what it means to be a warrior-scholar, a freedom-fighting intellectual," she told students through a bullhorn in one video. "You are part of the long legacy, the strong history, of fighting back."
In another instance, Salazar rips the Los Angeles Unified School District, saying, "This school system for too long has been not only denying them human rights, basic human rights, but doing it on purpose in order to keep them subservient, to subjugate them in society."
A union official said the critique against Salazar included a statement that her teaching was too "Afro-centric." An assistant principal, in his evaluation of a particular lesson, accused Salazar of brainwashing students, according to Salazar and others.
Her course materials include "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," which is approved for students. Salazar, 25, also sprinkles in lyrics of slain rapper Tupac Shakur and the poetry of Langston Hughes.
Salazar's political science degree from UCLA includes minors in African American studies and Chicano studies. She recently completed a master's in education at UCLA.
A veteran teacher assigned to mentor Salazar took issue with the negative characterization of Salazar's teaching.
"I did not see the same things that the administrator said he saw," said Miranda Manners, who observed the same lesson during a different class period. "I saw a new, young teacher teaching her lesson according to the objectives she stated on the board. I saw her engage with her students and interacting with them in a very positive way."
As for Salazar's overall campus profile, "she is definitely a teacher who wants kids to wake up and look around them and ask questions and be motivated and be engaged."
It was the latter penchant that caused the furor, said others.
Salazar served as faculty advisor for campus student activists who wanted to pass out surveys about the school and students' education. Unlike at other schools, Principal Stephen G. Strachan forbade the distribution of surveys on campus.
Salazar said Strachan also accused her of starting a separate student activist group that demanded more culturally relevant courses as well as accurate, up-to-date student records. Some students have complained that transcript errors result in them being placed in the wrong classes.
"She's one of the teachers that needs to stay here," said junior Deysy Ruiz, 16, who estimated that at least half of her teachers had been ineffective by comparison.
Another group behind the protest was the Assn. of Raza Educators, which includes Santee Education Complex teachers who advocated successfully for the removal of a principal at that high school.
Strachan did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday. But the video footage suggests that Salazar's removal is justified, said Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines through a spokesman. The course materials are appropriate, but the advocacy may have crossed the line, he said.
Salazar, who was informed of her pending dismissal in April, needed at least one more year of service to earn district tenure, which limits her recourse.
"I think she was a terrific teacher, who had a real connection with kids, but teachers in her position have a hard time winning these battles," said Joshua Pechthalt, a vice president with United Teachers Los Angeles.