Bay City News

Oakland Unified Board Member Apologizes for Putting Hand on Teacher's Neck

An Oakland Unified School District board trustee has publicly apologized to an Oakland kindergarten teacher for putting her hands on that teacher's neck during a Friday afternoon picket line scrum — an incident captured on a video now making the social media rounds.

Jumoke Hinton Hodge, a 10-year member of the school district board, issued a statement Saturday saying she "deeply" apologizes to Darnisha Wright for what she described as "inadvertently pushing up against" Wright's neck during what was a chaotic scene Friday at La Escuelita Elementary School on Second Avenue in Oakland immediately before a 2 p.m. school board meeting.

In her statement, Hinton Hodge said she was trying to get into the school, and that picketing teachers were "engaged in a series of activities that physically threatened us as board members and me in particular," including chaining doors to the school shut. Hinton Hodge said that, at one point, she was pushed to the ground and became "briefly disoriented." She said that as she tried to get up, "I was inadvertently pushing up against a teacher's neck."

The video shows Hinton Hodge's hand on Wright's neck for several seconds.

"I was surprised her hand stayed on me for so long," said Wright, in her second-year as kindergarten teacher at Markham Elementary School. She said she believes Hinton Hodge's actions weren't directed at her personally.

Wright said during a brief interview Saturday that she hasn't made a decision about whether to pursue this matter with the school board.

"I'm trying to focus all my energy into the contract vote tomorrow; that's what's most important right now," she said.

Oakland teachers are set to vote starting at noon Sunday on a tentative contract agreement that would end their seven-day strike. The ratification vote, on a proposed 11 percent salary hike over four years with a one-time 3 percent bonus, will take place at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland.

Hinton Hodge said in her statement Saturday that she would never intentionally hurt anyone, especially a teacher.

"And I regret any harm that I might have caused her," Hinton Hodge said. "I am deeply troubled by this and when realizing afterwards who it was, I offer my sincerest apology to Ms. Wright. I acted out of fear and self-defense.

"It was terrifying, unacceptable and has no place in our civil discourse, especially on a day when we should be celebrating an agreement that will end a strike and offer our teachers something closer to what they deserve," Hinton Hodge continued.

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