School employees should be held to a higher standard of conduct when it comes to being inclusive of differences, the Prosser School Board was told Tuesday night.
“When teachers are going out of their way to show belligerent attitudes toward these groups of people, I would encourage (the district) to hold the teachers and the employees to a higher standard of conduct,” said Marciela Sanchez, who grew up in Prosser.
Sanchez was one of eight from an audience of almost 100 people who spoke of their concerns about recent Facebook posts by two Prosser school employees.
A first-grade teacher and a library assistant remain on paid leave while the district investigates their comments concerning the Day Without Immigrants Boycott.
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Candace Andrews, whose children attend Prosser schools, told the board, “If we do not demand acceptance and inclusion in our schools, where can we expect to find it.”
And Prosser High teacher Brett Dillahunt didn’t hold back. “This is educational cancer,” he said.
Superintendent Ray Tolcacher placed Cheriese Rhode, a Keene-Riverview Elementary School teacher, and Peggy Brown, a Prosser Heights Elementary School library assistant, on leave in February after parents and citizens learned of their posts and began complaining.
Rhode wrote on the day before the protest: “This is a great idea, narrows the search down,” followed by information for how to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
After the boycott, Brown’s Facebook post said it was an “absolutely great day today. ... Sure alleviated the over crowding at school. No out of control kids, like it should be going to school. ... I hope they can do it again.”
It remains unclear whether the district can punish either of the employees.
If we do not demand acceptance and inclusion in our schools, where can we expect to find it.
Candace Andrews of Prosser
Tolcacher told the audience Tuesday that the board did not plan to discuss the personnel issue that night, but people were allowed to speak during the public comment time.
Earlier, Tolcacher told the Herald that he understands people want a quick resolution, but it’s a complex issue.
“We want to do the best thing for our kids,” he said.
Leo Perales and Jessica Monterey Gonzales with The Latino Coalition of the Tri-Cities have asked the school board to make a formal statement repudiating the posts, and put policies in place to “provide the necessary safety to a student who may be undocumented and ensure that such sensitive information be kept private.”
Perales said he isn’t looking for the two employees to be fired, but he wants them to understand that their words can hurt children in their school district.
He said Rhode’s statement went too far by encouraging people to call federal agents.
“She’s targeting every Latino person in that school,” he said. “That’s where I draw the line.”
Last week, the coalition sent a sample policy for the district to consider. As part of the proposal, the district would require the Immigration and Naturalization Service to notify the superintendent or district attorney, in person, of its intention to enter district property.
The proposal allows the superintendent to require written authority from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents before they come onto district property, and calls for the the superintendent to develop a plan for training teachers, administrators and other staff on how to respond to agents.
Monterey Gonzales is leading a letter-writing campaign on Facebook asking the district and state officials to set a precedent that employee attacks on others are not tolerated.
“Failure to do so sends a statewide message to families and advocates pushing to create inclusiveness in our schools and our communities,” the form letter says.