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School board refuses to fire teacher with history of misconduct — because he’s black

The school board for the Portland (Oregon) Public Schools recently voted to retain a black teacher with a history of misconduct — because he’s black.

Dance teacher Damon Keller repeatedly was cited for calling out sick from school when he actually was giving private lessons, the Daily Mail reports.

Keller (pictured) also went to North Carolina to judge a dance contest despite his travel request being turned down by the district.

The Oregonian notes Keller “has also been dogged by disciplinary issues in the past seven years” including “physical misconduct involving students.” The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission put him on a two-year probation in 2021.

Keller was placed on administrative leave back in April, which led to a student walkout. The Portland Mercury notes that historically black Ockley Green Middle School students and parents believed Keller and other teachers of color were being “unfairly targeted.”

Nevertheless, late last month the school board voted 4-3 to retain Keller. Board member Michelle DePass specifically noted her vote against Keller’s termination was due to his race.

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“The district has been documenting Keller for eight years,” DePass said.

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. …

We need to be applying our discipline policies equally, to everyone. We always say, ‘Oh, we need more Black teachers.’ But we have to retain the people we have. Let’s lovingly work with the people we have.

Two years ago, DePass (pictured) delayed a school board vote on a new high school mascot — an evergreen tree — because she believed it had “racist connotations” (a tree = lynching of black Americans).

The other black members of the board, along with one white member, Julia Brim-Edwards, joined DePass in siding with Keller.

Brim-Edwards said “Black principals and teachers who are leaving the district have told me about their shared experience, and [Keller] is a Black teacher in a school with a very diverse set of students. That did inform my point of view.”

Portland Association of Teachers President Angela Bonilla was pleased with Keller’s retention, saying his supporters showed that the district “tends to only change course when pushed/shamed in public.”

Andrew Scott, one of the three who voted against retaining Keller, said DePass’s comments “created a future lawsuit.” He added “I have never heard comments that race-based in this type of a setting […] it was extraordinarily troubling.”

MORE: GOP chairman sues Portland Public Schools for helping organize gun control protests

IMAGE: Portland Public Schools Communications/YouTube

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.