Mesquite resident Ukiah Swain spoke to the Mesquite ISD board of Trustees in support of rehiring Phylicia Jimenez at John Horn High School.
While speaking on Jimenez’ behalf, she read some of the 1,324 comments made by parents, teachers and students when signing the petition to rehire her.
Some of the comments from those who signed the petition to have her rehired highlighted her willingness to work with all of her students and how much she cared about everyone.
During an interview with Star Local Media, Jimenez said she was an English teacher at John Horn High School who was placed on administrative leave because of her use of profanity in front of students while expressing her disagreement with new school policy. Upon hearing about her termination, students organized a protest that occurred on May 26.
“They told me that I need to submit my letter of resignation or be terminated,” Jimenez said. “I did not submit my letter of resignation, so they have to terminate me.”
Because of an increase of issues regarding behavior and supervision on the campus of Horn, a new policy was introduced where students would be escorted to the cafeteria to get food and turned off the vending machines to mitigate gatherings among students.
“Mainly, students were not where they were supposed to be and doing things they were not supposed to be doing,” Laura Jobe, Executive Director for Communications at Mesquite ISD said. “This is something they normally do during testing. The teacher will escort students to the cafeteria and escort them back.”
While not expressed in the email, Swain said some of the students were required to walk in a single-file line with their hands behind their back. Jimenez described the policy adopted by administration as "school to prison pipeline."
Some of the students, in addition to Jimenez and Swain, highlighted what they described as the school administration’s disproportionate disciplinary action.
One of the signers said while Jimenez would do anything to help her students, the assistant principal who was involved in her termination made students feel uncomfortable.
Jobe stated from the district's perspective, the assistant principal was not involved in Jimenez' administrative leave. She said disciplinary action taken against Jimenez was solely because of the use of profanity in front of students.
“It’s funny how an African American teacher has to stop me walking in the hallway to ask me if I’m alright after a white administrator stop me from going to class trying to turn me around after I told them I was supposed to be here,” a student said on the petition.
Shortly before the May 1 school board election, a portion of the students held a silent protest against one of the assistant principals, saying they felt like they were being wrongly targeted for disciplinary action.
The assistant principal is reported by both Jimenez and Swain to be the main source of the disproportionality and inappropriate discipline in the school. One such occurrence was when the assistant principal determined a student’s punishment by having him roll dice as an intimidation tactic, Swain and Jimenez claimed.
“My disciplinary action was the straw that broke the camel's back,” Jimenez said. “My students love me, and I have a good rapport with them. I think once they heard the incident involved him -- even though he didn't really do anything, that's what got them fired up.”
Horn students and parents still aim to help Jimenez get her job back.
“We took away a teacher simply because she was standing up for our students because she did not want them to be treated like a school to prison pipeline," Swain said.
The assistant principal was not made available for comment by the district.