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Originally published June 5, 2013 at 9:43 PM | Page modified June 6, 2013 at 12:12 AM

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Supporters protest Seattle teacher’s transfer

At a packed School Board meeting Wednesday, students of a controversial racial-issues teacher at Seattle’s Center School protested his disciplinary transfer to a middle school.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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More than 100 supporters of a teacher at Seattle’s Center School packed Wednesday night’s School Board meeting to protest disciplinary action that will move him to another school next year.

Decked out in green clothes and armbands, they insisted Seattle Public Schools board members reinstate Jon Greenberg at the high school along with his now-banned frank-discussion method of teaching about racial issues.

The district Wednesday confirmed that Greenberg is to be moved to Hamilton International Middle School next year.

Greenberg’s racial- and social-justice-issues lessons at Center School stirred up controversy earlier this year when the family of a senior in his class filed a complaint that the class created an intimidating educational environment. Exactly what offended the student has not been released by the district, and other students in Greenberg’s class said they didn’t know what it was.

The district dealt with that complaint by banning Greenberg’s Courageous Conversations teaching method, which had given students the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about race.

The district’s decision to transfer Greenberg to Hamilton stems from a second complaint against him from the same family who filed the first one, according to Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel.

This time the issue was a petition supporting Greenberg’s teaching method. The petition was circulated in one of his classes while the student was present, an action the student viewed as harassment.

Eva Cosgrove, a senior in Greenberg’s class this year, says that the petition was passed around all the humanities classes at the school and that Greenberg stepped out of his classroom while students decided whether to sign it. She said it’s not only unfair to blame Greenberg for the second complaint, it’s unfair that learning has been hampered in her favorite class.

“I don’t feel like I can speak openly about race in class now because I’m afraid that if I offend that student she’ll complain about him more,” Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove came to the meeting dressed in green like most of Greenberg’s other supporters. Many held up signs protesting the district’s decision. One read: “I’m uncomfortable talking about race too. That’s how I know it’s really important to do it.”

Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Lesley Rogers said nothing is barring Center School from continuing to teach the racial- and social-justice-issues curriculum next year without the Courageous Conversations element.

But Gerardine Carroll, one of the school’s four humanities teachers, says the actions taken against Greenberg create a chilling effect that could deter teachers from touching on controversial topics like race in the future.

“The next teacher is going to say, ‘Oh the last guy was transferred for that — huh,’ ” Carroll said.

Nathan Hale High School teacher Doug Edelstein says he worries how Greenberg’s punishment will affect discussion about other controversial topics — topics that come up frequently in his U.S. history courses.

“That it will create a chilling effect is an understatement,” Edelstein said. “Student discomfort will become the arbiter of curriculum.”

Greenberg did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting, but he said in March he was convinced his students could handle frank discussions about race and that “one family’s complaint should not have led to all this.”

Alyssa Piraino, a former student of his from 2007, said it was better that Greenberg wasn’t there because she and the other supporters wanted to show the district that he did not encourage circulation of the petition at school.

Students who wanted his teaching method reinstated were behind it, she said.

At this point, only one person could reverse the decision to transfer Greenberg, the board said Wednesday night. That would be district Superintendent José Banda.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

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