SACRAMENTO — On July 1, 2017, Oak Park’s Christian Brothers High School, CBS, announced that Chris Orr had been appointed as the school’s next principal. The announcement was made by CBS president Lorcan Barnes.
Just two years later, Orr — without reason or explanation — was fired and many of the parents, instructors, and students are furious. Orr was the first Black principal in Christian Brothers’ 143 years of existence.
Orr’s dismissal came shortly after Michelle Williams, CBS’s first African American female assistant principal, was also terminated. The firings has baffled many people who were seeing positive changes on the campus, especially a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The Sacramento Branch of the NAACP sent a letter to CBS’s chairman of the board Stephan Mahaney requesting “an inquiry into the termination processes” of Orr and Ms. Williams. NAACP President Betty Williams, Cassandra Jennings, Chet Hewitt and other community leaders from throughout the Sacramento region approved the request.
The letter sought for transparency “…in order to ensure that the decisisons to terminate their employment were not based on any issues related to bias, discrimination, dispartiy, or in retaliliation for raising issues related to the effectives of Christian Brothers in achieveig its stated vision of excellence for students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status,” the letter stated.
Barnes declined to comment on the firings when The OBSERVER contacted him by telephone. But Mahaney did respond to the NAACP’s request in a written letter dated Oct. 23.
“We understand that the news of Mr. Chris Orr’s departure came as a surprise to members of the community. We also understand the desire to know details is a natural response, particularly in light of Mr. Orr’s senior management position,” Mahaney stated. “As with all personnel matters, we respect the privacy and dignity of the individual and it would be unlawful and inappropriate to share details regarding Mr. Orr’s departure.”
Prior to his arrival at Christian Brothers, Orr had been serving as principal of Langston Hughes Academy, an Aspire school in Stockton. He has 15 years of experience as an educator and administrator, including tenures as teacher, coach, dean of students, athletic director, assistant principal and principal.
His ties and personal commitment to Christian Brothers run deep, as his wife, Tashia, 1990, brother, Mark Orr, 1994, and sister, Tia Orr, 1995, are graduates. His son, Nicolas, graduated in June and his son Solomon is in the class of 2020.
Earlier this week, about 60 people had a meeting Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center in Oak Park to discuss the firings. The Life Center is less than a three-minute walk to CBS.
The meeting consisted of concerned parents, instructors, students, former board members, and members of the community in support of Orr and Ms. Williams. The group, as a whole, was diverse in background.
The meeting was organized by Daisy Po’oi, whose daughter is a freshman and son a junior at CBS. Ms. Po’oi supported the changes and Orr’s professional character. She’s known Orr for the last two years and wants the students and teachers who supported him to “stand up to the fact that he did something nice for you,” she said.
“When he was fired, I reached out to him and asked, ‘What do you need me to do?’” Ms. Po’oi told The OBSERVER. “The parents and the students should be asking, ‘What the hell is going on.’ This is heartbreaking. Nobody should be treated this way.”
A couple days later, Ms. Po’oi said about 25 students protested the firings right before classes started at CBS. She also said that there were other students who wanted to get involved but stayed on the sidelines as instructed by their parents.
The bottom line is that the students, as well as the parents, want answers, something the private educational institution does not have to provide.
“I just wanted to get a pulse of what’s out there with the students,” Ms. Po’oi said. “You could tell that some of the students were afraid. But we need many more bodies out there. We need more parents out there. There is something to say about culture and diversity. We just have to knock down the door.”
Connie Emerson, a parent of one of the students at CBS, said at the meeting at the Family Life Center that she was notified that Orr’s departure “was an immediate termination for personal reasons.”
“That just doesn’t jive,” Ms. Emerson said. “That’s what’s so disturbing to me.”
The parents and the students will meet again at the Family Life Center in Oak Park to work out a “strategy and timeline” of events, Ms. Po’oi said. She is asking for current and former parents of students and CBS alumni to attend and share their thoughts.
“We want to keep the fire burning and have more of an aggressive approach,” Ms. Po’oi said. “We are going to meet there every Monday if we can. They are not just going to sweep this under the rug.”
The next meeting is at Dr. Williams Family Life Center at 6:45 p.m., Monday, Oct. 28. The Family Life Center is located at 4036 14th Avenue.
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer