Teacher accused of telling student ‘go back to Mexico’ is put on leave

Nov 17, 2017
About 120 parents sought answers at Fulmore Middle School on Friday morning. PHOTO COURTESY OF AUSTIN SCHOOL DISTRICT.

About 120 parents Friday morning packed the library at Fulmore Middle School, seeking answers days after a campus protest in which students accused a teacher of telling a student to “go back to Mexico.”

At the meeting Friday, parents pushed for details on what actions the district had taken against the teacher, some calling for her to be fired or removed from the campus, according to those who attended.

Administrators — who sent a letter home after Tuesday’s protest that said the teacher made an “insensitive statement” but gave few details — told the parents that the teacher has been placed on administrative leave, pending a review. But district officials said they were unable to discuss the specifics of any discipline, saying personnel issues are confidential, according to several who attended.

The district has also declined to release the teacher’s name. However, officials with knowledge of the incident, as well as several parents and students, identified her as Terri Reuwsaat.

Some parents said at the meeting that the district’s action seemed disingenuous, since she was put on leave only after the issue escalated, though campus administrators were made aware of the comment two weeks ago.

One student who was in Reuwsaat’s class when the incident occurred gave this account of what happened: Reuwsaat was trying to give an assignment to a male student, who struggles with English and was speaking Spanish to a classmate at the time. The boy didn’t seem to understand what the teacher was saying, or the assignment. Reuwsaat seemed to think he was pretending he didn’t understand, and told him that if he was going to refuse to learn English, he could go back to Mexico.

Principal Lisa Bush opened Friday’s meeting by apologizing to parents for the lack of communication after the teacher’s remarks two weeks ago. District officials then wanted to break into small groups, but parents pushed back saying they wanted their questions answered first. Superintendent Paul Cruz, who was in attendance, then directed the staff to start the question-and-answer session prior to breaking up into groups.

School officials said the incident was isolated. However, two parents told administrators they also had negative experiences with the teacher in question, alleging she had made several insensitive remarks, those in attendance said. One parent said she made an anonymous call to the campus last year to complain about Reuwsaat, fearing retaliation against her child.

Reuwsaat could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon, and did not respond to a Facebook message.

“I shared a lot of parents’ frustrations in the beginning,” said parent Troy Madres, who attended the meeting and whose son participated in the protest. “I largely felt satisfied with their responses, and I left that meeting thinking they were able to hear our concerns and answer many of our questions.”

Another parent who attended, Linda Sullivan, said the incident caused a lot of concern because it was counter to the inclusive culture at Fulmore.

“In general, my interactions with staff and teachers have been extremely respectful and kind,” she said. “This is so difficult for us as a community because we had such a wonderful experience that when something like this happens, it is so out of the ordinary.”