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Who is Richard Carranza? DoE Chancellor steps down after shocking ‘Wakanda’ controversy and $90 million lawsuit

A Bronx educator has claimed she was fired partly as a result of her refusal to imitate a salute to Black power from the 2018 film 'Black Panther'
UPDATED FEB 26, 2021
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (Getty Images)
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (Getty Images)

A veteran educator from the Bronx recently claimed she was fired after she denied mimicking a salute to Black power from the 2018 film, 'Black Panther', during her superintendent meetings. Another veteran also made serious claims and said she was also targeted by Department of Education, Chancellor Richard Carranza. Both of them have sued him.

The Department of Education Chancellor is now stepping down after three controversial years, city officials said in a surprise announcement Friday, February 26, 2021. According to the DoE, his last day will be March 15 — and he will be replaced by current Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Ross-Porter. “It’s been an honor of a lifetime to serve as a chancellor and from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve your and my children,” Carranza said at a press briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chancellor Richard Caranza (Twitter)

At the official get-together of the top heads of the Department of Education, then-Bronx superintendent Porter frequently asked the group to do the arms-across-the-chest gesture of solidarity from the mythical African nation of Wakanda. The salute is recognized as a symbol of empowerment.

But Rafaela Espinal, an Afro-Latina origin lady, a Dominican-American refused to join in, she “was admonished and told that it was inappropriate for her not to participate,” according to a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed on February 3, 2021, against the city Department of Education, Chancellor Richard Carranza and some of his top-ranking officers.

Rafaela Espinal (Courtesy: Colombia University)

Espinal was one year away from receiving a lifetime DOE pension when she was abruptly fired from her job as a head of Community School District 12 in the Bronx without any reason given. This happened after she repeatedly declined to do the 'Wakanda Forever' salute, according to the lawsuit.

She blames her firing partly on this reason. Espinal, who recently earned a doctorate, wanted to keep her retirement bonuses and health insurance, ultimately accepted the demotion to school investigator, a role which requires only a high school diploma and which left her with no permanent desk or phone.

Wakanda Salute (Courtesy: Marvel Cinematic Universe)

Porter, who was later elevated by Carranza to the post of “executive superintendent,” a promotion she celebrated with a lavish gala, has a Twitter timeline packed with group shots of DOE staff doing the 'Wakanda Forever' salute. One-shot shows Carranza who is not able to perform the gesture correctly.

The image showed Carranza, Porter, Espinal and others during the chancellor’s tour of the five boroughs, according to a source.

Group shot of DOE staff doing the 'Wakanda Forever' salute (Twitter: MeishaPorter)

In another story covered by The NY Post, another educator made serious claims against Carranza. Karen Ames, a 30-year Department of Education employee, stated that she was targeted by Carranza’s 'Disrupt and Dismantle' campaign to remove or marginalize longtime employees because she is over 40, and Jewish. “The agenda of Chancellor

Carranza and his senior leadership team were euphemistically touted as an ‘equity platform’ but in reality, it was a platform used to create gender, age, racial and ethnic divisions in the NYC School system,” she contends in her Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed Friday, February 19. Just like Espinal, Ames also declined requests at the superintendents' meetings to take part in the comic book movie-inspired “Wakanda Forever” salute to “black power,” she charges in the legal filing.

Karen Ames (Courtesy: Bronx District 8)

It is not the first time that Carranza made news for his racial stand. Back in 2019, the Special Commissioner of Investigation probed a complaint that Carranza hired two former out-of-state colleagues for the posts with the help of waivers. He was questioned for creating a new position of “senior executive director of continuous improvement” — for associate Abram Jimenez at a salary of $205,416. Asked about the controversy, Carranza said he was being targeted “as a man of color.”

In 2019, three senior white educators charged a whopping $90 million lawsuit against Carranza stating that they were demoted in favor of less-qualified minority educators as part of a crusade to make the agency’s top management reflect the ethnic makeup of students. 

Richard Carranza (Twitter)

The suit filed by Lois Herrera, Jaye Murray and Laura Feijoo, three white women and senior administrators said that they were left by the wayside in Carranza’s push to make sure his top staff reflected the fact that 70 percent of city students are a minority.

“If you draw a paycheck from DOE,” you will either “get on board with (his) equity platform or leave,” Carranza is charged with saying. When asked if he said that and if so what was meant by it, Carranza said, “I did not say that, absolutely did not say that. I give pep talks to the employees of the DOE all the time,” adding, “It’s critically important that we remain focused on our mission. Let me be really clear: our mission is to serve every one of the 1.1 million students under our care. That’s our mission. And if your agenda is not to serve our students, if your agenda is an adult agenda and not a student agenda then perhaps the Department of Education is not the right department for you to work in.”

Richard Carranza (Twitter)

According to NYC Govt's official website, "During Carranza’s over 30 years in education, he has served in virtually every role. Prior to New York City, he was the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, and the seventh-largest in the United States. Before that, he served the San Francisco Unified School District, first as deputy superintendent and then as superintendent.

Before moving to San Francisco, Carranza was the Northwest Region superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas. He began his career as a high school, bilingual social studies and music teacher, and then as a principal, both in Tucson, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada."