What began as a protest at a private Petaluma high school over claims of racially-motivated layoffs led to a face to face confrontation with counter protesters Sunday.
The protest at St. Vincent De Paul High School quickly grew, at times with heated face to face confrontations from both sides. But at the center of it all was two Black women, laid off from their faculty positions at the school in June.
Supporters say it happened after they allegedly tried to initiate dialogue with the school’s leadership about systemic racism at the school.
Joanna Paun, the dean of counseling and physical education teacher, and Kinyatta Reynolds were the only Black women on faculty.
“They fired two Black women on Juneteenth after they had tried to speak up about racism at the school,” said Aiden Lynch, protest organizer and school alum.
In a statement issued Saturday addressing the recent controversies, the school’s principal and pastor reject the allegations made against them.
They said the restructuring of staff was not racially motivated but that cuts were made in light of budget concerns and increased costs of making the school ready due to COVID-19.
But Lynch doesn’t agree.
“The truth is that Black people do not feel comfortable there and are no longer represented there on the faculty and staff,” he said.
He added that political party alignment from leadership at the school was made clear after the principal and representatives of St. Vincent De Paul attended a white house event.
A statement issued by the principal and pastor of the school denied party alignment.
“There was no intention to align the school or any of its staff or students with any national political figure or party,” the statement read.
“Simply stated, they went to Washington not to pay court to any person, but to share with their country their knowledge and experience.”
Matt Freeman, a parent at the school, supports the administration.
“We feel very strongly that Pastor Donahue and Principal Daly are doing a fantastic job running the school, and that’s why we’re here, to support the school.”
It is still unclear if Paun and Reynolds will seek legal help against the school or its leadership. But they said their clear goal is coming to the table about systemic racism.
“I see a lot of people that I went to high school with and its so nice to see those people in support of me,” Reynolds said.
“What I would like to see is for everyone to engage in real honest conversations without fear of retaliation,” said Paun.