Portland’s woke school board has refused to fire a black dance teacher caught ringing in sick to take private lessons and judge a contest – after claiming that doing so would be racist.
School board members who lost a 4-3 vote to keep Damon Keller working at Ockley Green Middle School slammed last week’s result as ‘extraordinarily troubling’.
Keller repeatedly pretended to be sick so he could skip work for his side gig teaching dance lessons.
After being told his contract wouldn’t permit him to take Wednesdays off to teach private lessons, Keller rang in sick on the day multiple times.
He’s also accused of ringing in sick after his request for unpaid leave so he could judge a dance contest in North Carolina was turned down. Keller ended up attending that contest and judging.
His behavior led to a furious clash with school officials that led headteacher Julie Rierson and superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero to move to fire him, The Oregonian reported.
Beloved dance teacher Damon Keller (pictured) kept his job after Portland’s woke school board reversed his firing over racism fears
But board member Michelle DePass admitted she’d spared Keller from being fired because of his race. DePass, who is black, told the vote meeting: ‘The district has been documenting Keller for eight years. They’ve been waiting for him to mess up.
‘I have never experienced a white person being scrutinized like that over that length of time and then dismissed. We shouldn’t hold black people to a higher standard of conduct than everyone else.’
The successful votes of DePass and three other board members – two of whom were black, with one being white – were blasted by fellow board member Andrew Scott.
He countered: ‘I have never heard comments that race-based in this type of a setting. We created a future lawsuit in that moment…It was extraordinarily troubling.’
Keller will be disciplined over his absences, although details of his punishment have not been shared.
The teacher – hailed as an extremely talented man whose former students have gone on to dance with Justin Bieber and Rihanna – has a history of disciplinary issues including physical misconduct involving students and neglect.
However, Keller’s students reacted with anger to his firing and staged a walkout in April to protest against losing one of the only black educators at the school.
They also claimed plans to fire him were racist.
Students staged a walkout in April to protest against Keller’s firing
Despite his alleged history of misconduct, Keller is a beloved educator at the school and his dance students have gone on to be backup dancers for the stars. Pictured: Students staged a walkout to protest the move to fire Keller in April
Following the student walkout, a public hearing was requested by Keller, which saw school board members face off over whether sacking the black dance teacher would be racist.
In the end, the 4-3 vote came down to a tiebreaker vote from one white school board member, who was forced to side either with three white members voting to dismiss Keller, or three black members trying to keep him on.
Portland is notorious for being one of America’s most progressive cities, with many of its residents and public officials proudly proclaiming their hard-left credentials on issues such as race and gender identity.
And while Keller is one of the only black teachers at Ockley Green Middle School, his student cohort is 60 percent black, Latino or multiracial, according to Oregon Live.
During his hearing, one Ockley Green Middle School parent said he serves ‘as a rare African-American male role model’ for students in the largely-white area.
Many complained after the move to fire Keller that his loss would be especially upsetting for black students, despite a lengthy rap sheet of disciplinary issues.
Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero (pictured) sacked the educator for lying about teaching private dance lessons on school time
The school’s high turnover of principals saw Julie Rierson become the third in three years last fall
His seven-years at the school have reportedly seen a number of behavior issues, including in March 2016 when he allegedly shoved a student to the ground after a dodgeball game.
He claimed after that it was an involuntary reflex after the student hit him when he was expecting a high-five.
In 2018, he also reportedly faced allegations he threw shoes at students to get their attention, and harangued students for changing their menstrual products while trying to hurry them to class.
In 2021, the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission put him on a two-year probation for ‘gross neglect of duties’ following an investigation.
At the time, Keller didn’t challenge the allegations levied against him, but insisted it was only because he wanted to keep his job.
While still on probation in spring 2022, a fight also reportedly broke out when he stepped out of his class to talk to a student without authorization, leading to him being suspended for a week. When he returned, he asked to take Wednesday afternoons off to teach private lessons – the issue that led to last week’s vote.
One of the issues at the heart of the controversy is the high turnover of principals at Ockley Middle School, with current administrator Julie Rierson beginning last fall as the third leader in three years.
When Keller asked to take time off every week for his private lessons, Rierson refused, citing his union contract barring teachers from working second jobs on school time.
Despite being turned down, an investigation found that he went anyway, but attempted to disguise it by calling in sick.
When he was brought up over the obvious pattern, he reportedly tried to change the time off to unpaid leave.
In March, he again infuriated school officials by flying to North Carolina to act as a paid judge for a dance competition, also on school time.
Keller claimed he was ill and didn’t go to North Carolina until school was done Friday evening, but failed to produce flight records proving this. An official at the dance event reportedly told school officials he was there the entire day.
When Rierson moved to fire him, Guerrero agreed.
But with all school boards needing to sign off on sacking certified educators under Oregon law, the public hearing ensued.
Students at Ockley Middle School staged a walkout in April to protest Keller’s firing. He is pictured teaching a dance lesson at the school in 2018
Michelle DePass (left) and Andrew Scott (right) squared off at the public hearing over whether firing Keller would be racist
Andrew Scott, one of the school board members who voted to approve Keller’s dismissal, told Oregon Live he initially saw the hearing as an open-and-shut case.
He felt that he had clearly breached his union contract, lied to his bosses, and been paid double while students missed out.
But he was furiously challenged at the hearing by black school board members, who argued that racial discrimination has a long history in job firings.
‘Disciplinary action is disproportionately meted out by race,’ said Michelle DePass, whose remarks were slammed as race-baiting by Scott.
‘Scrutiny on black employees in our public institutions falls disproportionately on black men. Those outcomes impact retirement and end up in the loss of Black wealth. I think firing is too harsh of a punishment.’
After school board member Julia Brim-Edwards sided with her black colleagues and voted to keep Keller, cheers broke out from the audience at the hearing.
But while students will be pleased they kept their favorite teacher, principals and school officials expressed concern over the precedent that had been set.
‘The board has some repair work to do with principals so they will know we will support them in the tough decisions they need to make while they run their schools,’ Scott said.
‘The precedent setting nature of this is very concerning to me. We have limited our ability as a board to terminate future teachers who engage in similar behaviors.’
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