By Jennipher Vasquez
Riverside Unified School District has fired John W. North High School teacher Candice Reed after a 4-1 vote by the Board of Education on Feb. 3.
Reed was put on administrative leave in October after the district became aware a student recorded and posted a video of her mocking Indigenous culture as part of a lesson.
Many activists, organizations and tribal council members have rallied together since then to voice their concerns and demand that Reed be fired from the district.
Shiishonga Tribe Chief and Chairman Michael Negrete spoke at the Board meeting on Thursday. He said the district took too long to terminate Reed’s employment.
“We stood up for our rights as Indigenous people and our voice has finally been heard,” Negrete said. “For far too long our voices haven’t been heard, it’s like they just bypass us.”
He and other tribal council members had met with RUSD Superintendent Renee Hill in October regarding Reed’s employment status and other concerns.
“We were really careful in the way we said things,” said Dee Dee Manzanares Ybarra, director of the American Indian Movement of Southern California. “We did not expect any more than what they did.”
She was among those who met with Hill.
“It gives us a sense of pride knowing that we’re proud of the student who stood up,” Manzanares Ybarra told Viewpoints. “We suffered a lot of trauma from the way we had to grow up, but we want the trauma to end. It’s time.”
Paulina Kiriakos, 24, protested among others at the RUSD office in downtown Riverside and has since continued to advocate for a resolution. She said the decision came as a result of the community’s effort to speak up for what they believe in.
“Regardless of the hate, regardless of the blockages that we faced, we prevailed and we got what we deserved, which was justice,” Kiriakos said. “This teacher doesn’t deserve to teach.”
Protesters say that although the decision to fire the trigonometry teacher is a step in the right direction, a lot of work still needs to be done to prevent this kind of behavior from happening again in the school system. They do not believe this to be a stand-alone incident.
A history major from Orange County, Jon, who wished to be identified only by first name, was also among those who protested when the video surfaced. He hopes to be a high school teacher in the future.
“This is clearly something that needs to be taught no matter what field you’re in,” Jon said. “It’s something that needs to happen right now if students like me want to become teachers in the future so that way things like this will not repeat. When things like that repeat, there’s going to be consequences.”
Independent professor Citlalli Citalmina Anahuac, who teaches decolonial historical courses centralizing on indigenous perspectives, said the lack of immediate district action highlights deeper rooted issues within the educational system.
“It shows an institutional problem when it comes to respecting and understanding indigenous history, culture and identity,” Anahuac said. “I think beyond the hiring practices there has to be an entire reeducation and restructure of how teachers are being taught to teach these subjects and what type of consideration are they giving to the population.”
She said the outpouring of activists, community members and historians that joined together to demand justice serve as an example of what can be accomplished through this kind of advocacy.
“It was very powerful,” Anahuac said. “This shows the power that we have in the community and this hit home for a lot of folks. Indigenous people in the diaspora all over were able to relate to this type of violence.”
Following the board’s decision, Reed will have the opportunity to appeal the charges for dismissal from RUSD.