A teacher who led a Black Lives Matter walkout at a Portland, Oregon, middle school won’t be fired after parents and students rallied to save his job, administrators say.
Teacher Chris Riser led a two-hour walkout involving at least 300 students at Ockley Green Middle School on Feb. 9 on the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting by Portland police of Quanice Hayes, 17, who was unarmed, reported KGW. The Portland Public Schools District suspended Riser on March 23 for the unauthorized walkout, which administrators said endangered student safety.
Kylie Rogers, chief human resources officer for the district, announced Tuesday that Riser will not be fired for leading the protest, the station reported.
“I now have a broad understanding of the historical failure of the district to consistently support the Ockley Green community,” Rogers said in a news release. “Since we cannot be certain of the role that our systemic failings played in this incident, I no longer believe that termination is an appropriate recommendation.”
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Parents had swarmed district headquarters on Tuesday to rally in support of Riser. “He is community-driven, he brings the staff together,” Denice McMillin, whose 13-year-old daughter took part in the February walkout, told KGW. “The children adore him, they listen to him.”
Parent Christopher Sargent told The Oregonian that Ockley Green Middle School, which reopened as a middle school in 2016, has been failed by the district.
“We have weathered years of neglect by Portland Public Schools in our North Portland schools,” Sargent said. “What continues to give us hope is when we see engaged teachers like Mr. Riser.”
Riser has declined to comment on the controversy, The Oregonian reported. It’s unclear when he will return to class and whether he will face other disciplinary penalties.
During the Feb. 9 Black Lives Matter walkout, Riser and other teachers led students on a three-mile round-trip walk lasting about two hours, including a “die-in” that blocked a busy intersection, reported Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“There were no steps taken to make sure that students had food, water or individual medical needs taken care of,” Paula McCullough, principal at Ockley Green Middle School, said in a statement defending Riser’s suspension. “Students were subjected to the risk of severe harm and this incident was a serious breach of our safety policies. The school did not authorize this activity and Portland Police were called to respond and assist as the event was occurring.”
Majiah Washington, a seventh-grader at the campus, told Oregon Public Broadcasting on the first school day after Riser’s suspension that district officials were trying to silence students and teachers.
“They don’t want people to be empowered – they just really don’t,” Washington said. “They tried to take him out. They tried to take away the best teacher, literally.”
Hayes died Feb. 9, 2017, after being shot by Portland police as he knelt with his hands in the air when an officer said the 17-year-old reached toward his waistband, reported KATU. Hayes, who was being sought on suspicion of an earlier armed robbery and attempted carjacking, was unarmed, although police said they found a “realistic-looking” replica firearm on the teen.
A grand jury found the officer was justified in the use of deadly force, according to the station. His family plans to sue the city and officers involved.