On the first day of school in the Oakland Unified School District, teacher Craig Gordon could not access his district email nor the substitute system, after having worked in the school district as a teacher for 24 years and substitute for eight years.
Oakland Voices spoke with Gordon about what happened, and why he believes he was fired due to his public activities and outspokenness – recently supporting those who took over Parker Community School to protest the school closure and to keep it as a hub for a community education site.
On Monday, August 8, 2022, Gordon first tried to check his OUSD email and found he had no access. Then, he found he was unable to access the online substitute system to see if and where subs would be needed.
“I emailed the head of Human Resources and asked if something had changed with my employment,” Gordon told Oakland Voices. “I was told a letter had been sent notifying me that my employment was hereby terminated, and that I was also precluded from ever being employed in OUSD again and, perhaps ironically, thanking me for my service.”
Gordon said in his more than three decades of working for OUSD, he had never a bad evaluation nor complaint, but was told that because substitutes are considered “at-will” employees, “you can be fired for cause or no cause.”
Gordon said that part of what irked him is that the district didn’t tell him in advance. He only received the official letter in the mail a week after school started. “After 32 years, they were fine with me just learning in that way.”
Gordon’s tenure in OUSD began in 1990, where, over the next 24 years, he taught History, Social Studies and ESL, as well as media and television production, at several schools including Castlemont and Fremont high schools and Montera Middle School. (This writer was a district colleague of Gordon when she was a teacher in OUSD, but is not related).
Gordon attributes his termination in part due to his long history of union activism.
Gordon believes it was his history of being a leader in the teachers’ union, speaking out, being in the media, and most recently supporting the the Parker Community School after the district voted to close the school, that led to him being terminated.
“It was clearly on the heels of a lot of union activity that I’ve been engaged in, not only at Parker, but in the fight against school closures for a long time,” Gordon added. “In recent months, I’ve been involved, very visibly, in public events, in the organizing for and leading up to the one-day strike on April 29th was specifically about school closures, done in conjunction with the International Longshore Workers Union, Local 10. They have an annual one-day a year work stoppage, around May Day. They coordinated with OEA (the Oakland Education Association). We built a coalition to protest privatization of schools and of the port.”
Gordon has a long history of speaking out at board meetings, publishing critical assessments of the district, and taking a lead on issues that have come up through the years. After retiring from full-time teaching and continuing as a substitute teacher, he also became an organizer for substitutes in matters such as providing paid COVID leave for subs. “…I filed numerous grievances for subs who were being denied COVID leave, that they were due. I have spoken at a number of school board meetings about school closures. That was all very public, and I’ve had a number of interactions with the top administration in the district over some of these grievances.”
About why Gordon has been an activist and union activist, beyond being a teacher or sub, he says that he believes it’s his duty, especially when he sees inequality.
“My responsibility to my students does not end with being the best teacher I can be. For one, as an advocate for their overall well-being, I need to stand up against the injustice and oppression they face daily. I also have come to understand that, under existing conditions, even the most spectacularly-talented and dedicated teacher imaginable cannot provide the quality of education students deserve. My low-income Black and Brown students need and deserve the kind of individual attention and very small class size afforded to students in the most expensive private schools. That is why I have spent so much time fighting for high-quality teaching and learning conditions in public schools.”
OUSD district spokesman John Sasaki said the district does not comment on personnel matters.
Gordon says that as a teacher and substitute, he was in demand and has support from other educators. Several teachers wrote letters of support after they learned of his abrupt termination.
A Montera teacher wrote in a letter addressed to OUSD’s superintendent: “Craig has always been the most sought-after sub for the special education classrooms.”
A United for Success Academy teacher wrote, “His experience as a veteran teacher is rare, and he has the skills and experience to handle the challenging student situations that sometimes arise. He is a valued member of our community and students like him. He goes above and beyond to support students in the [general education] classrooms, and inclusion room, and to teach social skills. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, when special education subs are nearly impossible to find, we need Craig more than ever. Please reinstate Craig’s sub position as quickly as possible. We need him now.”
A former West Oakland Middle School teacher and current sub wrote, “Prior to my retirement in 2020, as a credentialed teacher, I often requested Mr. Craig Gordon to be the substitute teacher…It would be a mistake to not allow this valuable substitute teacher to support OUSD’s students and community. Craig Gordon has proven to be dutifully dedicated to educate our students and proficient at supporting classroom instruction!!!”
A Special Education teacher concurred, writing in a letter of support, “I can confidently say Craig Gordon is one of the best substitutes with whom I have ever worked. Typically, my students felt anxious if I had to be out of the classroom for a day, but they were relieved once they knew Mr. Gordon would be their substitute teacher.”
Gordon has submitted a grievance to contest the termination. “We know that the district will deny it,” Gordon said, but added that “there is a provision in the contract that you cannot discriminate against someone for union activity. OEA has already sent a letter to the district, stating “we demand an immediate halt to retaliatory actions” against Gordon, who was terminated, as well as retaliation against two other other teachers.
While the grievance is pending, Gordon says he plans to remain active and busy.
“I’ve got plenty of stuff to do. I will still be active in OEA throughout this time. The district can fire somebody, but you can still be a member of the union as long as you’re contesting it. I’m still going to be active in the union, supporting other teachers who need the support, as a rep. I expect to win this eventually.”
+ + +
The original version of the article incorrectly stated that Gordon was active in planning protests at Parker Community School.