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Californian contributing columnist Jose Gaspar.

Henry A. Barrios/ The Californian

The controversy surrounding Jaime Quiñonez's tenure as principal of Mira Monte High is revealing larger problems in the whole Kern High School District, and now it's subject of litigation.

In March, KHSD notified Quiñonez he may not remain as principal and be reassigned to the district office before the end of the school year, said Bakersfield attorney Gabriel Godinez.

In April, students, parents and community members including civil rights activist Dolores Huerta turned out at a school board meeting to support Quiñonez and voice their objection at any attempt to remove him from Mira Monte.

Though Quiñonez is an at-will employee, KHSD better have a good reason for removing him.

KHSD figures from 2013-14 show that out of 18 comprehensive campuses, Quiñonez is one of just three Hispanic principals in a district made up of a whopping 75 percent minority students, out of which 62 percent are Hispanic. There is just one black principal.

Likewise, the district is sorely lacking in hiring minority teachers and administrators. According to the district, 16 percent of its teachers are Hispanic, 3 percent black and 75 percent white. The imbalance is worse among administrators, with 13 percent being Hispanic, 9 percent black and nearly 75 percent white.

Huerta believes the district is targeting Quiñonez for removal because he is not afraid to speak truth to power in criticizing district practices that stack the deck against minorities. For example, the district practice of promoting from within usually results in minorities being shut off from getting top administrative posts, especially for district superintendent.

With few minority teachers and administrators employed, there is a small pool to choose from when a top post becomes open. Furthermore, minority candidates with years of experience in the district are passed over for others with less experience.

But others see things differently. At a school board meeting last week, dozens of Quiñonez detractors told the school board why he ought to be removed.

"Fear, intimidation, defamation of character ... harassment, bullying. These are the words that define my experience at Mira Monte High School for two years," said math teacher Rachel Grunski.

Jessie Aguilar, vice president of the Kern High School Teachers Association, said he deeply respects Huerta and agrees KHSD has done a poor job of hiring and promoting minorities.

"Dolores Huerta is absolutely right in that issue," Aguilar told the board. "But on this issue regarding Mira Monte, we disagree. Teachers are lining up to escape from Mira Monte."

Former student Shay Harleston told the board that when he tried to start a LGBT group on campus, he was shunned by the administration.

"We were repeatedly faced with paper work missing, being told that it wasn't turned in," said Harleston.

Quiñonez has not commented on the accusations and the district's attempt to remove him. But his lawyer is speaking out.

Godinez recently filed a claim for damages in excess of $25,000 against KHSD. The claim alleges the district has retaliated against Quiñonez for reporting harassment; failed to investigate harassment; violated the state's open meetings law; and committed race and age discrimination (Quiñonez is 54).

The claim states Quiñonez has been injured by the district's attempt to remove him as Mira Monte's principal.

Under state law, KHSD cannot comment on what it plans to do with Quiñonez. As for hiring more minority teachers and administrators, Superintendent Bryon Schaefer admits the district has not done enough, but is working on the issue.

Asked to comment on the claim filed by Quiñonez, KHSD referred all questions to its attorney in the matter, Anthony DeMaria of Fresno.

"At this time, KHSD is not going to comment on pending litigation," said DeMaria.

Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a reporter for KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

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