It is unbelievable that a Texas school teacher, one entrusted with supporting individual growth, would tell a Mexican student to “go back to Mexico.” According to census records Hispanics in 2010, (of any race) were 37.6% of the population of the state of Texas, while Non-Hispanic Whites composed 45.3%. By her own admission, 63-year-old Shirley Bunn said she could not believe those words came out of her mouth.
In September, Bunn was distributing Title 1 forms to students in the classroom. One student, speaking out of turn, requested the forms in Spanish. Public records document Bunn that told the student he could retrieve the forms in Spanish from the main office. But he continued to repeat, and it may be safe to assume interrupt, saying that he was Mexican. Pending an investigation, Bunn was placed on administrative leave.
Jess Rickman, the independent examiner on the case, has since recommended that Bunn return to the classroom. His finding was that there was a “lack of intent for ‘Go back to Mexico ‘ to be [considered] a racially or nationality-based pejorative remark.” The Arlington Independent School District’s Board of Director Minutes from October 20, 2011 reflect the board considered a recommendation to propose discharge of the contract of Shirley L. Bunn at that meeting.
One must ask on what basis has the examiner arrived at the above conclusion. Is it enough of an excuse, given the circumstances which are not disputed, that a teacher with 24 years of experience states it was simply a bad day?
During Bunn’s hearing, it came to light that this was not the only occasion where Bunn was said to speak disparingingly of Mexicans. In private conversation, she was heard to refer to a group of male Mexican students as Mexican Mafia. Again, the independent examiner had similar findings regarding Bunn’s intent.
People who make comments like this always say these comments are not meant to be racist and they do not believe themselves to be racist. But what is racism if not this? Where should the line be drawn?
On a deeper level, this speaks to the discomfort Americans feel in discussing race. There is a problem when individuals such as the examiner cover up for bad behavior, which is what I think the independent examiner has done. Better to state that this is wrong. Even Bunn says she does not know where the words came from. I personally do not think she should be fired, but I feel she should be reprimanded severely.
Interestingly, Title 1 of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 provides supplemental funds to school districts to help schools with the highest student concentrations of poverty to meet school educational goals. The law also allows school to use funds to acquire “highly qualified staff”(professionals, i.e. teachers, psychologists, social workers, etc.).
Should Mrs. Bunn have sensitivity classes or do you think she should find another job? No matter what, she must learn to watch her tongue.
Photo from dherrera_96 via flickr
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