At least 60 students walked out of a South Austin middle school and circled the school building Wednesday afternoon in protest of a teacher’s culturally insensitive comments to a student, according to students and school officials.
Several Fulmore Middle School students who participated in the walkout Wednesday told the American-Statesman they were protesting because a teacher in a social and emotional learning class had told a student, who was speaking Spanish at the time, to “go back to Mexico.”
The teacher said this about two weeks ago, according to students who were in her class at the time, and some Fulmore students felt that administrators did not adequately address what the teacher had said.
In a letter to the school’s community, Fulmore Principal Lisa Bush acknowledged that “an adult staff member made an insensitive statement to a student. Comments such as that are not tolerated at any level and appropriate actions were taken.”
It is unclear what actions school officials took immediately after the incident, but in a letter to the school board Wednesday, Austin school Superintendent Paul Cruz said the teacher has been placed on administrative leave. Cruz said an estimated 60 Fulmore students participated in the protest, but videos posted online appear to show more students participating.
Neither of the letters specified what the teacher said.
Several students said the school building was damaged during the protest. Students mentioned that a window was broken, part of a fence was knocked down and a ceiling tile in a hallway was punched.
Austin school police officers were on campus during the protest, Bush said.
“Additional Austin ISD police officers were sent to the campus to assist with the mostly peaceful protest, which lasted about 40 minutes,” Bush wrote.
At least one school board member commented on the situation.
“I am confident the superintendent and his team are gathering the facts and responding appropriately,” said school board member Geronimo Rodriguez, who represents South Austin. “I expect a quick response. This is a teachable moment for our diverse community regarding our culture of treating people with dignity and respect.”
Montserrat Garibay, who advocates through a state union for the rights of young unauthorized immigrants studying in Austin schools, said she applauded the students’ courage “to speak up and organize against hateful and racist rhetoric.”
“We are living in critical moments in history, and we all must lead by example and be sensitive and inclusive of students’ backgrounds,” said Garibay, who is the secretary treasurer of the Texas chapter of AFL-CIO. “The administrators have a moral and ethical responsibility to address these types of issues in a timely manner so it doesn’t escalate.”