Illustration by Nico Orgain
In October of 2017, Yvette Felarca, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and two of her coworkers sued the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), King Principal Janet Levenson, and Superintendent Donald Evans. The case concerned Judicial Watch, a far-right organization, which had requested that BUSD release any and all records they maintained in connection to Felarca. She later responded, stating that the release of those records would be a violation of her privacy, and a blatant attempt to restrict her well-known activism. She, alongside two other King staff members, Lori Nixon and Larry Stefl, brought charges against BUSD in an attempt to keep those records private. On October 19, 2018, the courts ruled against Felarca, stating that those files belonged under public records.
This was not the first situation publicized regarding Felarca’s activism. In September of 2016, assault charges were brought against her in connection to a white supremacist rally in Sacramento, which she attended as a form of counter protest. According to witnesses and video evidence, she repeatedly punched and verbally assaulted a man holding a neo-nazi flag. This situation led to BUSD placing her on temporary leave while an investigation took place. “We received a flood of emails and phone calls telling us to fire her,” said Levenson following the event. “One of the people who contacted me threatened to harm students.” Despite all of this, Felarca was reinstated approximately three months later.
However, the extent of threats made towards King students and staff were only released to the public after Felarca lost the lawsuit. In October of 2017, the far-right group, Judicial Watch, which is best known for its campaign to release emails concerning Hillary Clinton, requested to view Felarca’s personnel file, as well as any emails written by district and school staff that had any relation to her and her activism for a radical group called By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). Felarca responded, with support from Nixon and Stefl, by suing BUSD and King Administrators, in order to keep those files private, as she believed that Judicial Watch intended to gain information on her political affiliations. “We’ve seen how BUSD has gone after Ms. Felarca’s livelihood and it makes people think twice about organizing politically outside of work,” said Nixon of the decision.
One year after filing this lawsuit, Judge Vince Chhabria ruled against Felarca, claiming that his decision was not a difficult one, as all the records that she sought to withhold or redact were public information that Felarca could not stop the district from disclosing. However, though she did not win this lawsuit, Felarca appears to instead focus on the impact this fight had on her community. “Mass movements of people who have stood against injustice have shaped history for the better, and that will continue to be true today,” Felarca said.
Following the lost lawsuit, according to King administrators, hundreds of hours of staff time and district funds have been spent on collecting these records. Despite this setback, Felarca does not appear to have given up hope. According to her, Berkeley activists have refused to accept this as a loss. “This is far from over. It’s clear that as long we keep fighting, we will win more in the future,” Felarca said.