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Stagg High School principal removed from graduation ceremony after giving speech

School officials said the district received complaints that the principal was using the ceremony as a platform to express his personal grievances.

STOCKTON, Calif. — The principal of Stockton's Stagg High School was removed from a graduation ceremony by police after giving a speech on Thursday.  

Ben Nakamura told ABC10 that he found out in March that he would be laid off as principal for the high school. During his graduation speech, Nakamura told his graduating students that he would not be returning next year. 

This was Nakamura's first year in this position. He told ABC10 that the district gave him notice that he'd be laid off due to apparent budget cuts, but he wanted to stay. Nakamura said he reapplied for the job, but the board of trustees decided not to keep him.

Noting that the vote happened in closed session, the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) said they can't comment on his employment status and couldn't confirm if he still had a job at all.

In a Facebook video posted Toni McNeil, Nakamura can be heard speaking about giving back to communities, representing family and the struggles one faces. He encouraged students to fight for justice, against injustice, and to "get every degree you can get."

During the video, he talks about being "kicked out" after one year at the school.

“That’s why I came here and why I only lasted one year - why I was kicked out - for one reason, that I truly love you and this community. I was kicked out," he can be heard saying in the video. "The Board of Trustees this past Tuesday voted three to four to remove me as your principal and not listen to the community, nor the students, nor the families, nor the staff of Stagg High School."

He told ABC10 that he was later escorted away by police. 

Melinda Meza, spokesperson for SUSD, said Nakamura was escorted off the campus by the SUSD Department of Public Safety and Brian Biedermann, who oversees graduations after giving the speech. Meza said Nakamura was also told that he wouldn't be attending the next two graduations for the day. Due to social distancing, SUSD's graduation ceremonies were split into three sessions.

According to Meza, the district received several complaints from parents about the principal and his speech, noting that some complained that he used the ceremony as a platform for his personal grievances instead of focusing on students.

Meza also said no speeches were supposed to be given during the ceremony, and instead, were supposed to be filmed for release in the evening due to time constraints.

“He did do his speech but he was escorted off campus because he didn’t follow protocol and it was deemed inappropriate,” Meza said.

Candelaria Vargas, board trustee for the district, said she felt it was important that their students know why their principal wasn't going to be returning in the next year and that "he is not abandoning them."

“I feel really disappointed. I feel that our students deserve a reasoning for why he won’t be here next year, and he was just doing justice by them,” Vargas said.

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