A Prosser School District library assistant was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after she posted comments on Facebook on the Day Without Immigrants protest.
Peggy Brown, who works at Prosser Heights Elementary School, is the second Prosser School District employee in less than a week to be placed on leave for commenting about the event.
As a result, the Latino Coalition of the Tri-Cities is asking the Prosser School Board to make a statement to the public “repudiating such language and highlighting that such rhetoric will not be tolerated” by employees and to adopt policies to protect students “who may be undocumented and ... ensure that such sensitive information be kept private.”
“We think students should feel safe and be able to focus on their education,” Leo Perales of the coalition told the Herald.
Brown’s Facebook post appeared Thursday evening after people nationwide closed businesses and kept children home from school to illustrate how crucial immigrants are to the U.S. economy.
“I had an absolutely great day today,” said the post. “Lots of grade school kids stayed home today for the immigrants protest. I loved it. Sure alleviated the over crowding at school. No out of control kids, like it should be going to school. Like school should be. I hope they can do it again soon.”
Upset citizens complained about the comments to officials in the district, where nearly 62 percent of the students are Hispanic.
Her husband, Dale, reported on Facebook that people discovered her post after she commented on a Herald story Friday about a similar post by elementary school teacher Cheriese Rhode.
Rhode, a first-grade teacher at Prosser’s Keene-Riverview Elementary, posted: “This is a great idea, narrows the search down,” followed by information for how to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“If this offended you in anyway do me a favor and unfriend my American (expletive)!!!,” the post said.
The school district received a flurry of angry or concerning emails, phone calls or other visits about the teacher after members of the public discovered the post.
Prosser Superintendent Ray Tolcacher issued a statement Friday that Rhode was placed on administrative leave “due to possible safety and security concerns, as well as concern for disruption of the school environment.”
On Tuesday, he issued a similar statement about Brown’s administration leave. The status of both employees is pending further review.
Brown, whose Facebook page also expresses opinions opposing gay marriage and hostility toward Muslims, has worked at the school for seven years. Rhode is in her second year at Prosser’s Keene-Riverview Elementary.
“The super(intendent) was mainly concerned about safety of everyone but especially the kids,” Dale Brown wrote in a Facebook post. “He received hundreds of calls, threats and concerns from parents therefore wanted to try calming their fears by putting Peggy on paid leave until the dust settles.”
He said Prosser police also came to their house after seeing people threaten the couple.
In their letter to the Prosser School Board, Perales and Jessica Monterey Gonzalez said, “The Latino Coalition of Tri-Cities firmly believes and supports everyone’s First Amendment right to free speech. ... But we need to understand that there is a fine line between free speech and speech that may incite violence, threaten someone’s safety, and lead to the separation of families.”
Perales said coalition members plan to attend the next Prosser School Board meeting. They included a sample policy that the school district could implement to “reaffirm and strengthen the protections afforded to undocumented students and their families.”
While it’s unclear what the school district will do concerning Rhode and Brown, it is not the first time teachers across the country have gotten in trouble for sharing their opinion on Facebook.
School districts across the nation have dismissed employees for posting complaints about administrators, parents or students, displaying photographs of alcohol and making lewd comments to students.
The American Board, a nonprofit aimed at preparing and certifying teachers, suggested teachers not maintain any social contact with students on social media sites.
Last week, a citizen also alerted the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s equity and civil rights office about Rhode’s comments.
Nathan Olson, a spokesman for the agency, said they are looking at the situation and may offer guidance to the Prosser School District about civil rights laws.
“They’re like a kind bigger sister,” Olson said. “They provide guidance and solutions to problems.”
He said district officials would conduct the initial investigating into whether any state or federal law was broken or if the comments violated the rules of professional conduct.
For example, a teacher could express support for Trump’s policies on immigration but adding further comments could be a problem.
And Olson noted student information, including immigration status, is protected by federal law. If a teacher learned a student was an illegal immigrant and reported it to federal officials, the teacher would be breaking federal law.