Nearly a year after an incident between two middle school students triggered the demotion of a popular Westchester principal, several of his supporters gathered at the site of his dismissal to listen to the latest development in the case that has captured the attention of much of the Westchester community.
At a June 19 press conference, Former Orville Wright Middle School Principal Dr. Kenneth Pride announced that a state agency stands ready to seek action on his behalf against the Los Angeles Unified School District for discriminatory acts if district officials do not resolve his case.
“I have been a victim of racial discrimination and along with my family, have suffered intolerably, including the loss of benefits,” he told the audience. “(LAUSD’s actions) are a violation of federal and state laws as well as of our collective bargaining agreement, and LAUSD needs to resolve it.
“(The LAUSD school board) has the authority, they have the power to do so, vested in them by the state of California.”
Pride, who is African-American, was demoted last year after an alleged sexual assault on a school bus that district officials say should have been reported in a fashion other than the way it was reported by the former principal.
The demotion of Pride, who did not witness the event, led to a high-spirited public discussion among parents, community members and students at the middle school Nov. 7, where practically the entire audience demanded the ex-principal’s reinstatement.
The next day, a number of students staged a walk-out to protest LAUSD’s action.
Flanked by several supporters at the press conference, Pride talked about his plans if the district does not respond to his requests and gave a brief summation on last year’s events.
Currently, he is one of several “pool” teachers, which are effectively substitute teachers.
The former principal said he had never been disciplined in any fashion and the demotion took him and his family by surprise. As one of less than 10 African-American principals in the district, he claimed he never received any mentoring or guidance as a first-year LAUSD principal.
Pride alleged he has seen a pattern of racial discrimination in how LAUSD handled his case versus how similar or more egregious cases were managed.
“I am a victim of systemic, racial discriminatory patterns when it comes to hiring, retaining and mentoring African-American males,” he asserted. “I say simply, look as the data in the district.”
LAUSD officials claimed that Pride should have placed a call immediately to Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family after learning of an action that rises to the level of child abuse.
In an exclusive interview with The Argonaut Jan. 26, Pride said LAUSD told him that he should have contacted the county department, even though a part of the policy bulletin states that if administrators have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse has occurred, they are to notify the county department or a local law enforcement agency.
“I had not had a reasonable suspicion at that time,” he said. “What happened to the subjective part of reasonable suspicion?”
Pride said he believed that he needed more information about the situation. “I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong,” he reiterated. “But again, I’m just a player in the game.”
Parent volunteer Nicole King, whose children and grandson attended Orville Wright, said she met Pride last year.
“I found him to be one of the most talented, effective and insightful administrators that I’ve encountered in a very long time,” King said. “This extremely punitive action is an assault on our academic well-being as well as our students in this community.”
Denny Schneider, who spoke as a member of the Westchester Neighborhood Association, denounced the district for what he said was its failure to listen to the community.
“I am just appalled to see that L.A. Unified is trying to get rid of people who are trying to do the right things instead of (those who) do the wrong ones,” he said. “It’s time to make this a better place for our kids, not worse.”
Schneider, who is also a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, said the neighborhood association has offered to use funds that they have raised as a legal fund if Pride seeks legal action.
The ex-principal said the press conference was a “precursor to any action” that he might take if the district does not respond. “There are state actions that are available to me, as well as an action through the court system. But I wanted to avoid those things,” Pride told The Argonaut.
“I’m giving them the opportunity to do the right thing.”
Before and after the press conference, parents, teachers and students embraced the former principal like a long-lost friend. Several of the students inquired about his status and if he would be returning to the school.
“When are you coming back, Dr. Pride?” asked two female students.
Nancy McCloud, a physical education teacher at Orville Wright, called Pride “a breath of fresh air.”
McCloud, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grades, said Pride had the devotion of the students and the respect of the faculty. “When both groups are happy, that means that you’re a special person,” she said.
According to a group of parents at the school, there has been an exodus of students since Pride was demoted.
Pride said he would consider returning to the middle school that he led for slightly more than a year.
“I miss the children,” he said. “I love these children.
“When I set foot near this school and kids run up to me, it breaks my heart… every single time.”
Pride said he has not spoken with LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Westchester, in over a year.
“Perhaps he feels that it would not be politically expedient (to address Pride’s case),” he said. “Steve Zimmer has not supported me in what I’ve tried to accomplish. It’s as if I had a contagious disease.”
Zimmer could not be reached for comment as of Argonaut press time.
Pride said he had no timetable for filing the action, but reiterated that he would not back down.
“If I hear nothing, I will continue to move forward with what I believe in,” he said. “I’m absolutely fearless, and I will do what is appropriate.”
Edward Brownley, a former educator who volunteers at Orville Wright, said he has been impressed with Pride’s professionalism from the first day they met.
“This gentleman has transformed this school,” said Brownley, a Playa del Rey resident. “The community is demanding that he be reinstated.”
Pride seemed buoyed by the outpouring of emotions that his former students and faculty members displayed towards him at the press conference.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” he said with a smile. “It’s something that I’ve never experienced in my life.
“(Their support) is what keeps me going.”