Six high school employees in a predominantly Latino district in Southern California were placed on administrative leave after they posted social-media comments insulting students who skipped classes to participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” protest.
The employees – five teachers and one guidance coordinator – said classes were quieter and grades higher with the students gone. Words such as “lazy,” “drunk” and “failing” were used to describe those who were absent.
Many immigrants across the country went on strike Thursday to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and to bring attention to their importance to the economy. The protest, which began through a social-media campaign, urged immigrants to not spend money and to not attend work or school for the day. The impact was felt mostly in the restaurant industry, where immigrants make up nearly 23 percent of the national workforce, The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported.
The employees who wrote the social media comments all work at Rubidoux High School in Jurupa Unified School District, where more than 80 percent of students are Hispanic or Latino. Nearly 70 percent of the residents of Jurupa, a city more than 40 miles outside downtown Los Angeles, are Hispanic or Latino.
The comments have since been deleted, but images of the posts are still circulating online.
The images show that the Facebook conversation about the students appears to have been started by social science teacher Geoffrey Greer, who wrote that his class size was cut by half on Thursday – “best school day ever.” He said the reduction in class size “only served to SUPPORT Trump’s initiatives and prove how much better things might be without all this overcrowding.”
“That’s what you get when you jump on some sort of bandwagon cause as an excuse to be lazy and/or get drunk,” Greer wrote.
Another image showed that Robin Riggle, an art teacher, replied by saying she had 50 absences, and that Thursday “was a very pleasant day.”
Science teacher Allen Umbarger also replied, saying his cumulative GPA “increased today” and that “mostly failing students were missing.”
Rhonda Fuller, an agriculture teacher, and Chuck Baugh, another science teacher, both said classes were less disruptive and more productive, according to the Riverside Press Enterprise. “Let’s do this more often,” Baugh commented.
Patricia Crawford, a guidance coordinator, said the school cafeteria was “much cleaner,” the roads had “less traffic,” and there were no “discipline issues.”
“More, please,” Crawford wrote.
Angered by their teachers’ remarks, dozens of students walked out of school early on Friday afternoon to march in protest, the Riverside Press Enterprise reported.
Many immediately took to social media to denounce the posts.
“I wish you guys were in our shoes … you guys have it easy … you guys think we’re not scared of any minute we get left without parents … why are you guys looking at it as a few students missing school and making your day better,” one Facebook user responded, tagging Riggle and Umbarger.
“To label people that are down to their last options as drunks or plain lazy is naive. Just because your struggles were different doesn’t make ours any less. To talk down on something because you don’t understand is a shame. You guys should really show what you fell about your students because there is plenty of people that look up to you guys. I damn well DID,” another one wrote, tagging Umbarger.
Images of both Facebook users’ responses to the teachers’ comments have been widely shared.
Cesar Jimenez, who said he graduated from Rubidoux High School in 2014, told The Washington Post that he understands how the teachers saw a smaller group of students as being more controllable but said they could have expressed their views differently.
“They could’ve expressed it in a more objective way,” said Jimenez, an English major at California State University in San Bernardino, Calif. “They expressed their opinions in almost a sarcastic way.”
The teachers should not have dismissed the students’ decision to join the nationwide boycott as a mere excuse to skip classes, Jimenez added. Those students, he said, aren’t just kids; rather, they’re teenagers who are developing their own political views and wanted their voices to be heard.
“Condensing it down to just looking for an excuse to get drunk and be lazy, that’s just irresponsible on his part,” Jimenez said of Greer. “That undermines the whole motive because it’s not about that. It’s about bringing attention to the fact that there are initiatives in our current administration that are pushing against immigration. These issues need to be brought to light.”
In a statement Friday, the school district announced that the six employees were placed on administrative leave.
District Superintendent Elliott Duchon said in a statement that the social-media posts did not reflect “the opinions or beliefs of the school district” and that officials were investigating.
“Neither the Board, nor staff, had any forewarning that such comments would be posted,” Duchon said. “We want to express that we are deeply concerned and distressed about the postings.”
School board President Robert Garcia echoed Duchon’s words.
“I am aware of and deeply understand the fears and concerns of our students,” Garcia said in a statement. “I am calling on members of our community to come together to assure that our schools remain safe and our student’s voices are heard.”
In a Facebook post, Greer apologized for how his message was received and acknowledged that it had “infuriated a great many people,” according to the Riverside Press Enterprise.
“While I stand by my assertion that skipping school is no way to demonstrate one’s value to society, I do apologize for the harsh tone and hurtful structure of the previous message,” Greer wrote, according to the paper. “I hadn’t meant for it to come across as quite so scathing.”
Calls to numbers listed under Greer, Riggle, Umbarger and Fuller were not returned Saturday. The Post was unable to find phone numbers for Baugh and Crawford.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Kristine Guerra