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Parents voice support for Artz-Fox principal

MABTON - Twice the parents filling the chambers of the Mabton School Board were asked by Chairman Manual Guzman if they wanted to address the school board on an issue on the agenda, and twice they stood silently.

It wasn't until after Roberto Diaz spoke on behalf of numerous parents of students at Artz-Fox Elementary School, who wanted to address and support Principal Fabian Castilleja, that parents were not allowed to speak.

Diaz, who was on the agenda to speak, was allotted 10 minutes to address concerns regarding "rumors and negative comments" about Castilleja's performance in the community.

"We feel that he meets and exceeds the required expectations of the Mabton School District," said Diaz. "Unfortunately, we have staff in the school district that is not willing to accept changes for the better of the school and the community."

Diaz added that even more unfortunate is that Castilleja does not meet the expectations of Superintendent Sandra Pasiero-Davis.

"Parents have stated Mr. Castilleja has addressed concerns brought to his attention immediately and has followed through with all the necessary action," said Diaz. "Mr. Castillaja has shown and proven to the parents of Mabton that he is able and willing to stand for the rights of the parents, and the children's education."

Diaz said that when Castilleja is out of the building the next person in charge does not address any issues brought to his attention and instead procrastinates.

Diaz said that one of the issues concerning parents that has occurred at the elementary school is teachers are neglecting to give children permission to use the restroom and children are wetting their pants in front of classmates. A number of parents in attendance last night nodded and mumbled, agreeing that they, too, had heard about children wetting their pants in class.

The issue was one brought up at a parent meeting with Davis a week ago, said Diaz, after a school board meeting. He said these are the kinds of issues that Castilleja is dealing with at the school.

"We want a person that advocates for children and families, not one that gets comfortable in the position and does nothing," said Diaz.

He also asked for a clarification of Davis' expectations, in writing, to help support and monitor Castilleja's performance. Diaz also strongly urged the board to take action in supporting Castilleja.

Guzman said the board takes complaints from the community very seriously, but that the board was not prepared to address any of last night's concerns.

After the meeting Davis said she did not anticipate having parents address the school board Monday night. However, a bright yellow piece of paper addressing the Mabton School Board's policy on audience participation was tacked to each of the school board agendas passed out at the meeting, and the school district attorney was present for the meeting.

Guzman said he was aware that Mr. Diaz wanted to speak, "...and if others wanted to come hear him that's your own prerogative," said Guzman.

"The board is apprised on ongoing dialogue between Dr. Pasiero-Davis and Mr. Castilleja," said Guzman, adding that is as far as it has gone.

Guzman added that complaints need to be brought in writing to the school board outlining specific details. He said that the school board makes policies and hears complaints from parents that have not been satisfactorily answered.

However, Rachel Ruelas, a parent with three children currently at Artz-Fox, said parents brought the issue to the school board so they will know what is going on in the schools because parents don't feel like the school board is being informed on what is happening.

Ruelas added that children wetting their pants isn't the only issue going on at the school. She said students are being frisked and teachers are placing their hands in the pockets of children. Other students, one with a broken foot, have been forced to run in physical education classes even though parents have sent notes prohibiting such activity to the teacher, said parents at the meeting.

Guzman said that through the proper channels, from teacher, to principal, to superintendent, to school board, the process works and has been proven.

However, Tawni Zavala said that she has followed the proper steps and has been ignored by those near the end of the process. Zavala noted she isn't the only parent to feel ignored by the upper levels of the school district staff and policy makers.

Many of the parents said they first learned of alleged efforts to fire Castilleja from their own children.

"My son came home and said, 'I heard teachers talking about Mr. Castilleja being fired. He won't be here next year'," said Ruelas. "They think (the students) are not listening, but they hear every word."

Parents were cut off and the meeting continued, but after the meeting parent Amy Reynolds said her daughter told her that if Mr. Castilleja is fired she wants to go to a different school.

She added that she has heard from several teachers of their dissatisfaction with Castilleja, which includes his refusal of their "dress down" day, which is Fridays, a day when students attend classes for half the day.

"If he feels they should dress like professionals, that's not a problem," said Reynolds.

Reynolds said teachers have also complained to her about the fact that Castilleja observes their classrooms.

Many of the Mabton parents said they feel the school has improved since Castilleja was hired.

"He's got a reputation of cleaning up schools," said Ruelas, adding that Castilleja interacts with the children, observes classrooms, is in the process of getting programs up and going again and has a dress code for teachers.

"If there is a dress code for students, why not for teachers?," Ruelas asked.

She said some of the teachers who have been part of the district since she was in school are the ones against Castilleja.

After the meeting Davis said they have never had this kind of interest in a school board meeting.

Davis said she met with parents a week ago to discuss concerns, some of which were addressed at Monday night's meeting.

"I thought I had addressed their issues," she said.

She added that she thinks the parents are a "little frustrated" because they don't know the process, and feels district administrators should begin informing parents about the proper procedures for addressing the school board and issues that arise at school.

"We're interested in making sure they have a real sense of satisfaction and feeling like they're being attended to," said Davis.

Davis said there is a difference between fact and rumor, although Diaz said that one parent brought up the pant wetting issue at the parent meeting Davis held last week.

Castilleja would not comment, but did say he appreciated parents coming out and taking part in the meeting.

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