Bye Bye, Ben 

Controversial charter school principal Ben Chavis pulls up stakes and leaves his school to someone else.

Under fire recently for his heated run-in with a Mills College professor and her grad students, foul-mouthed educator Ben Chavis has resigned as principal of American Indian Public Charter School. Chavis, who won national accolades for his school's test scores and local scorn for his controversial teaching methods, said he moved to Tucson, Arizona to spend more time with his grandkids. "I had a great experience there," he said of American Indian. "I never had so much fun fighting liberals in my life."

Full Disclosure learned of Chavis' resignation after receiving a packet of documents sent by American Indian Public Charter School to the Oakland Unified School District as part of the district's inquiry into Chavis' behavior. Included in the documents were the minutes from American Indian's March 15 board of trustees meeting, which included this bombshell: "Dr. Chavis has noted that he will work part time next year, 2007-2008 ... This will also be his last year as the director of American Indian Public Charter School." The board meeting occurred just hours after the Mills College incident.

Chavis said his resignation had been in the works for years, and had nothing to do with the Mills run-in. "Everybody has known about it for two years," he said. He also said that he will make himself available to work part time this upcoming academic year, but he doesn't think the school will need him. He said he has been replaced by Isaac Berniker, a graduate of Dartmouth College. American Indian board president Rose Hing-Lee had no comment.

Over the past half-decade, Chavis has become the most celebrated educator in the East Bay. Last year, American Indian scored a perfect 10 on the state's Academic Performance Index, and was named by the Bush Administration as one of the best 250 schools nationwide. But as first reported here in May, Chavis got in hot water after Mills College professor Sabrina Zirkel and several of her grad students accused him of calling grad student Unity Lewis "a fucking black minority punk" during a March 15 visit to American Indian. The Mills group also said Chavis had asked one of his own female students if a boy "was still trying to suck your titties."

Though he readily admits to motivating students with racially charged language and humiliating taunts, Chavis denied making the "suck your titties" comment. He said he called Lewis "a dumbass minority" and "an embarrassment to his race."

Because American Indian is a charter school, the Oakland school district had no direct authority over Chavis. But after the Mills allegations, the district launched an inquiry and demanded that the school's board members fully investigate the incident. In a June 4 response letter to the district, Hing-Lee acknowledged that Chavis' actions were not "appropriate or professional." She said the board fined Chavis $700.

But Kirsten Vital, chief of accountability for the school district, said last week in a letter to American Indian that the charter school board's investigation "was insufficient." Vital demanded a more thorough review and said the district planned to continue its inquiry. However, with Chavis now gone, it's unclear what will happen next. School district spokesman Troy Flint said district officials were not aware of Chavis' resignation.

Vital also said in her July 13 letter to American Indian that she and other district officials observed "inappropriate and offensive" behavior by Chavis during a June 6 school visit. Vital said Chavis, in front of students, described a former employee as a "white bitch" because she did not do her work. Vital also said that one student said she was forced to clean the boys' bathroom as punishment for misbehaving. District officials, Vital said, considered the latter incident "to border on the line of something which would need to be reported to Child Protective Services."

Referendum Wins a Round

Though Stuart Flashman looks more like a 1960s peace activist than a sharp courtroom lawyer, it doesn't pay to underestimate him. That's the lesson being learned by the well-coiffed attorneys hired by mega-developers Signature Properties and Reynolds and Brown, who want to build 3,100 condos on the city's waterfront.

Flashman works for the grassroots group Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee which wants to put the massive condo project up for a citywide vote. Last August, the committee gathered more than 25,000 signatures in about three weeks — some six thousand more than were needed to qualify for the ballot. But City Attorney John Russo threw out the petitions, prompting Flashman to immediately sue the city.

The legal disagreement between Russo and Flashman is actually quite simple: Should the city attorney have tossed the petitions? But the case has been tied up in court for nearly a year because the developers' lawyers have attempted to expand the scope of the litigation. Among their claims is that the petitions should be ruled illegal because some of the signature gatherers were not from Oakland.

In June, the developers' attorneys won the legal right to learn the names of the signature gatherers, and they intend to question each of them about their residency status.

Though Flashman lost that battle, he won a legal decision earlier this month that could blunt the developers' claims. On July 12, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that Flashman could limit his suit to whether Russo was right to throw out the petitions. "It basically pushes their claims out of this lawsuit," Flashman said of the developers.

Flashman expects the developers will countersue the Oak to Ninth committee to get their claims reinstated. But when they do, Flashman appears to be ready for them.

In recent weeks, he unearthed a 27-year-old legal opinion from the office of the California Secretary of State that appears to shoot a hole in the out-of-town signature-gatherer argument. According to the April 1980 opinion, signatures gathered by petition circulators not registered to vote in the city in question are valid. The petition gatherers themselves may be charged with a crime, but the voters' signatures are legal.

So what does it all mean? We should finally find out whether Russo was right or wrong.

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