A Judicial Watch record request has fueled a tense legal drama between a middle school teacher who is a national organizer for a radical leftist group and the public district that employs her. The conflict ensued a few weeks ago when Judicial Watch filed a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request with the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) to obtain information about the controversial teacher’s violent Antifa activism.
The teacher, Yvette Felarca, works at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and is a prominent figure in By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), an organized militant group founded by the Marxist Revolutionary Workers League that uses raucous militant tactics to protest conservative speaking engagements. Over the summer Felarca was arrested and charged with several crimes, including felony assault, for inciting a riot in Sacramento, according to information provided by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office to a Berkeley news outlet. Felarca was captured on video calling a man a Nazi and punching him in the stomach repeatedly while shouting obscenities at him. More than a dozen people were injured in the riot, at least 10 with stab wounds, and the capitol grounds suffered thousands of dollars in property damage.
BUSD has accused Felarca of brainwashing and indoctrinating students for years and in a 2016 letter cited in a local news article the district writes that her performance “reflected unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance,” both grounds for dismissal. The teacher repeatedly solicited students to participate in protests, used students to support her own personal political agenda and repeatedly used leave time to attend immigrant rights marches in Washington D.C., even though the district says it is not an allowable use for personal or sick leave.
“It was evident that you and your [By Any Means Necessary] representatives were actively trying to brainwash and manipulate these young people to serve your own selfish interests in not being held accountable to the same rules that apply to everyone else,” the letter states. “As a teacher, your conduct was particularly reprehensible.” Earlier this year the district was bombarded with calls to fire the combative teacher.
Judicial Watch filed the CPRA to obtain records of communication between district administrators and King Middle School staff mentioning the words Felarca, Antifa, By All Means Necessary and BAMN as well as the teacher’s personnel file. Last week BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans reluctantly announced that he will comply with Judicial Watch’s request for the records because he is legally required to do so.
Evans writes that it’s possible Judicial Watch is conducting a “witch hunt” to intimidate and deny free speech rights, but mentions the bottom line: The law is clear that a public agency’s refusal to comply with a lawful request may result in substantial litigation costs and attorney’s fees imposed on the agency for its refusal to comply. The superintendent reminds that “courts have made clear that the motivation of the requestor seeking public records under the CPRA is not a basis to reject a request — no matter how upsetting the request may be, or how objectionable the motivation for the request may be.”
Felarca responded by suing the district to keep it from fulfilling its legal obligation to provide Judicial Watch with the records. A King Middle School staffer named Lori Nixon and a teacher, Larry Stefl, joined her in the complaint, which argues that Judicial Watch is misusing the law for political means and the district should refuse to provide the information. It also calls Judicial Watch’s record request “illegal.” Evans, BUSD and King Middle School Principal Janet Levenson are named in the complaint.
“Judicial Watch and BUSD seek to put on public display the emails of teachers and staff at MLKMS, a school community that has been defending Felarca and the city of Berkeley from right-wing attack,” the teacher’s complaint states. “Defendant seeks to conduct a political witch-hunt, violating Plaintiffs’ privacy and chill their freedom of speech, freedom of association, and right to engage in protected activities and disrupts their public function as educators.”
The court document explains that “Berkeley has found itself at ground zero in the fight against Donald Trump’s policies of anti-immigrant scapegoating and tendency toward creating an authoritarian regime.” Berkeley is at the center of opposing the alt-right and neo-Nazi thugs who have repeatedly targeted the city precisely because of its principles of anti-racism, tolerance and freedom of speech, the filing says. “This case will have tremendous impact on the future course of this struggle.”