White teachers accuse administrators of racial discrimination

Four white Philadelphia elementary school teachers filed federal complaints last week alleging they experienced harassment and racial discrimination by several school and district officials, including being accused by a principal of being unfit to teach black students.

Among their complaints filed in four federal lawsuits, the teachers at Mifflin Elementary School, in East Falls, said then-principal, Charles Ray III, who is black, targeted them and other white staffers because of their race, as first reported by Courthouse News, an online court news service.

As part of their professional development, Ray forced white staffers to read an article “instructing the teachers that white teachers do not have the ability to teach African American students,” the lawsuit alleges.

The teachers also allege that the principal created “an atmosphere of distrust and favoritism,” which “repeatedly sabotaged” their relationships with students and their colleagues.

Meanwhile, Ray let black teachers “overlook, override or flat-out ignore school rules and policies, but would not allow white teachers to do the same” and publicly reprimanded them in front of parents, students and staff, according to the complaints.

Class schedules and room assignments were changed at random and without notice, and Ray refused to give teachers access to school supplies.

Ignoring the union’s voting procedure, the teachers claim that the principal removed white teachers as union representatives and replaced them with black teachers.

After filing grievances with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the union “failed to represent” the teachers.

In response to their grievances, the suits say that Ray then asked Shirl Ishmael, a black teacher at the school, to “secretly” investigate plaintiff Debra McKibbin Marenbach and other white teachers and gave her access to their personnel files.

If that wasn’t enough, the suit goes on to say that Ray released their personal information, including their home addresses, to an investigator he hired to “intimidate, harass and find basis for firing [Marenbach] and other white teachers.”

Ray gave the teachers poor performance reviews and though he accommodated black teachers with "physical limitations," he refused to do the same for Marenbach, a 12-year teaching veteran. Ray reassigned her to the second floor even though she couldn’t climb the stairs which cut her off from access to other areas throughout the school, the suit says.

A district spokeswoman did not return a request for comment. A call to the Marenbach residence went unanswered. So did a call to a number listed under Ray.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, one of six defendants named in the suit, said he wasn't aware of the filing, but said that the school has had a long history of racial problems.

Several years ago, racial tension between staff permeated the school, sparking community protests and a series of City Council hearings, he said.

"There was disparaging treatment of staff and students of color by the principal," he said. "There have a number of principals at that school."

He said he's surprised to hear of this latest news since he hadn't heard of any conflicts so far this year.

Read the whole report in tomorrow's Daily News.