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Rancor at Petaluma Protest over Black Teacher Firings 

click to enlarge Hundreds of protesters crowded the St. Vincent’s Church Plaza on Sunday as part of a demonstration organized by St. Vincent’s High School alum Aidan Lynch and local Black Lives Matter supporters.

Kary Hess

Hundreds of protesters crowded the St. Vincent’s Church Plaza on Sunday as part of a demonstration organized by St. Vincent’s High School alum Aidan Lynch and local Black Lives Matter supporters.

Hundreds of protesters crowded the St. Vincent’s Church Plaza on Sunday as part of a demonstration organized by St. Vincent’s High School alum Aidan Lynch and local Black Lives Matter supporters. Central to the protest was the firing of two Black women staff members at the Catholic High School.

The demonstration began at the private Catholic high school and culminated at the St. Vincent’s Church Plaza with a press conference communicating the protestors’ concerns, which stem from mid-June, when St. Vincent’s High School (SVHS) dismissed Dean of Counseling Joanna Paun and Physical Education Teacher Kinyatta Reynolds. The terminations came “one week after attempting to engage Principal Patrick Daly, Father Donahue, and the SVHS Board in a dialogue about institutional racism at the school and their proposed solutions,” according to an open letter written to school officials by Lynch and signed by over 200 other alumni.

Daly did not respond to the teachers’ attempts to dialogue about racism, but their positions were eliminated. Incidentally, the date of the teachers’ dismissal was the same as Juneteenth,, the annual observance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which some have observed as adding insult to injury, according to Lynch in an NBC news interview.

“It is ludicrous that SVHS fired all Black faculty under the guise of budget restructuring, while simultaneously accepting federally-insured money,” says Lynch in the alumni letter.

“What I would like to see is for everyone to engage in real, honest conversations without fear of retaliation,” said Paun in the same NBC news interview.

Calls to SVHS seeking comment from Daly went unanswered.

The masked protest was met by a sparse pro-Trump group—mostly without masks—that stood on the front steps of the Catholic church waving flags and signs that said Back the Blue and Trump 2020.

One counter-protester continuously attempted to drown out the press conference by shouting at them from a megaphone. Another counter-protester was seen shoving a BLM protester according to a bystander who wished to remain anonymous. “All of a sudden, I heard yelling and noticed the blonde woman in the red MAGA tank top aggressively going after one of the BLM protestors, shoving her to the ground, and pulling her hair. Several bystanders, including myself, ran over to intervene,” the bystander recounted. “That's when she shoved her flag pole toward my chest.”

Young children also witnessed the incident. A Petaluma Police Department Press Release states that they have not yet been contacted by any victims.

Daly’s recent in-person roundtable conversation with President Trump about reopening schools was also cause for concern to the alumni and protesters. The SVHS alumni letter states “[Daly’s] decision to appear at the White House soon after [the dismissal of the teachers] served as a clear response, and spoke plainly that racism can occur with impunity at Saint Vincent de Paul on Daly’s watch.”

The SVHS alumni expressed a desire for fuller transparency with the school’s hiring practices budgets, inclusion efforts, and caution over the optimistic school reopening plans. The plans include a contingency plan for fully opening schools in person the week of September 8th, despite “a record-breaking month of fatalities linked to the coronavirus pandemic...500,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the most of any state” according to an August 3rd article in the Los Angeles Times.

In a response on the SVHS school website, Daly and school President Rev. William Donahue say that Daly went to the White House Forum not to “pay court to any person,” but to share their “knowledge and experience”. Additionally, they deny any wrongdoing and say that the staff members “were not singled out due to race or any other form of invidious discrimination.”

Principal Daly of St. Vincent’s High School was the only representative of Catholic and West Coast high schools at the July 7th White House roundtable conversation on reopening schools. He was praised by Trump during the meeting for wanting to fully open St. Vincent’s High School this Fall in spite of record numbers of COVID-19 cases.
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