More than a month after Cleveland High School’s popular principal was ousted from her position for revealing a change in district practices related to COVID-19, educators are resigning in protest and calling for her reinstatement.
“Due to the treatment of Catherine Brown, I’m leaving the district,” Paige Wilson, a Cleveland teacher, told the Seattle School Board at Wednesday evening’s meeting. “My resignation may be of no consequence to you, but it is a great consequence to the Cleveland community.”
Two teachers — Wilson and Claude Laude — told board members they resigned because of the way the district handled Brown’s demotion as principal. Another staffer, athletic director Jon Hughes, said he’s retiring early in part because of Brown’s dismissal.
Laude told the board he believes about 30 Cleveland employees are resigning, and many have said it’s because of Brown’s departure. Cleveland employed about 54 teachers in the 2020-21 school year, according to the state superintendent’s office.
On Thursday, Seattle Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson would not say how many Cleveland staff are resigning, and told a reporter to file a public records request to get that information. Robinson wouldn’t say when the request would be completed.
About a dozen educators, students and community members spoke at the board meeting in support of reinstating Brown; most wore T-shirts with Brown’s name and picture on them. Brown has worked at the school for 18 years.
Superintendent Brent Jones said he isn’t currently considering giving Brown her job back, which he has the authority to do.
“I always stay open to opportunities … the door is never shut,” he said in an interview. “I want the best for Cleveland — the best for Cleveland students primarily — and we’ll work it out.”
Laude, the teacher, told the board that “transparency is paramount to building trust with the community. We need leaders like Catherine Brown who uphold these values. The burnout right now is tremendous. Ms. Brown provides a reliable foundation of building-level stability amidst rampant systemic instability.”
Brown’s attorney has said Brown was stripped of her position because she informed families of the district’s plan to scale back COVID contact tracing in Seattle schools. Brown was told not to tell families about the plan.
“I’m really sad because Catherine Brown cared about my life more than you guys did,” Seattle parent Sebrena Burr told the board. “How we do things makes a difference, and what we’ve done to Cleveland is wrong, and I beg you, Dr. Jones — do the right thing and get some restorative justice; bring in some healing.”
After an investigation, district officials decided to end Brown’s principal contract, effective June 30. They have also demoted her to a lower role, planned to reassign her to a different school, and are recommending a five-day suspension.
Last month, Jones announced plans to replace Brown with Marni Campbell, principal of Robert Eagle Staff Middle School. The move was sharply criticized by students and community members, in part because of Campbell’s role in handling a 2005 alleged sexual abuse incident that resulted in a lawsuit the district settled in 2015.
Cleveland students staged a walkout in May to protest the decision and called for Brown’s reinstatement. Around the time of the walkout, Campbell told the district she would not take the Cleveland position. The district is currently searching for Cleveland’s next leader.
Students and educators have asked to meet with Jones. On Wednesday, he said he is willing.
“There’s always an opportunity to spend time and recognize what our issues are and to look at them from a deeper level,” Jones said. “Once we do that we need to seek opportunities to reconcile.”
Board members Leslie Harris and Lisa Rivera-Smith both voiced support for “restorative justice” at Cleveland.
“That’s a community that is hurting,” Harris said. “Whether or not you agree with the decisions made … there needs to be a coming together and a making of peace and we need to walk our talk on that.”
It’s difficult to feel hopeful for the next school year not knowing who Cleveland’s next leader will be, said Dana Loui, an incoming senior and Cleveland’s new Associated Student Body president.
“These last few days have felt confusing, not knowing the level of support that will be in place next year,” Loui said. “We need a principal who will bring us back together and we need to restore what has been taken away from us.”
Since early spring, before the district’s investigation, Brown has been on medical leave. Once she is cleared to return to work by a physician, the district will have a meeting with Brown so that she can respond to the district’s allegations and investigation, said Shannon McMinimee, Brown’s attorney.
Brown’s decision to tell families about the district’s plan to cut back on contact tracing was courageous, said Cleveland science teacher Francis Lin.
“The only logical replacement for Principal Catherine Brown is Principal Catherine Brown,” Lin said. “After completing my first full year of teaching at Cleveland High School, Catherine came up to me and congratulated me and said, ‘We’re glad you came back here, you belong here.’ I hope to return the favor — Principal Brown, you belong here.”