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Veteran Educator Claims She Was Fired After 'Refusing' To Mimic 'Controversial' Gesture

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Photo Credit: Twitter/New York Post

Rafaela Espinal claims she was fired from her position as the head of Community School District 12 in Bronx for refusing to mimic the “Black Panther” salute during superintendent meetings.

She stated that during meetings of high-level Department of Education bosses, Meisha Ross Porter, then-Bronx superintendent, often asked the attendees to make the arms-across-the-chest gesture of solidarity.

Espinal, a Dominican-American who identifies as Afro-Latina, refused to participate, and “was admonished and told that it was inappropriate for her not to participate,” a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on February 3 against the city DOE, Chancellor Richard Carranza and some of his top-ranking lieutenants stated.

Just on year shy of earning a lifetime DOE pension, Espinal was fired without explanation following repeated refusal to do the “Wakanda Forever” salute, the lawsuit states.

Photo Credit: Google

She ended up accepting a demotion to school investigator in a desperate bid to keep her retirement benefits and health insurance. The new role only requires a high school diploma, and she had no permanent desk or phone.

Espinal was repeatedly asked to do “Wakanda” salute at other professional meetings, but she felt that the gesture “introduced a racial divide where there should be none,” her lawyers, Israel Goldberg, Helen Setton and Domenic Recchia stated.

Goldberg added that forcing colleagues to perform the “Wakanda” salute “corrupted” it, noting that “the gesture was hijacked.”

However, the DOE maintained that the gesture is not referring to “Black power,” but is “a symbol used to represent the Bronx.”

Photo Credit: Google

The $40 million suit also stated that Espinal’s fellow DOE administrators allegedly told her that she wasn’t “Black enough” and that she should “just learn to be quiet and look pretty.”

According to Espinal, the racial fissures started emerging in the superintendent meetings in the fall of 2017, as some Black administrators would have a separate meeting after the larger group’s monthly meetings.

Soon after, only the Black superintendents had their birthdays recognized at official meetings.

The racial tensions escalated following the appointment of the controversial Carranza as chancellor of city schools in April 2018, who began pushing forth a platform of racial “equity” that have been slammed by critics as divisive and educationally problematic.

Espinal stated that Jose Ruiz, an advisor to then-first deputy chancellor Cheryl Watson-Harris went on to degrade her race and gender by telling her, “You are so pretty but then you enter the room open your mouth and intimidate men and people.”

Photo Credit: Twitter/New York Post

Watson-Harris, who is now in charge of schools in DeKalb County, Georgia, got Espinal’s district wrong in the August 2018 termination letter, writing “you will no longer serve in District 8.”

She was informed that the DOE was moving “in a new direction” and that she “did not fit into that agenda,” the lawsuit states, adding that she was forced to vacate her office on a Sunday and the district staffers were forbidden to be in contact with her.

Porter and Watson-Harris declined to comment on the matter.

A DOE spokeswoman maintained that the department is “committed to fostering a safe, inclusive work environment and strongly dispute any claims of discrimination or improper treatment.” 

Sources: New York Post