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Mabton hearing on Artz-Fox school principal release continues

MABTON - An administrative hearing in Mabton City Hall focused on the Mabton School District's decision to not renew former Artz-Fox Elementary School Principal Fabian Castilleja's contract continued yesterday (Wednesday), with attorneys for both parties hearing testimony from several witnesses.

The first up to testify in the morning was former Mabton High School Principal Keith Morris. Morris served at the school from 1984 to 2006.

School district attorney Jeanie Tolcacher asked Morris if a student/parent protest took place during the 2004-05 school year and what it was about. "It was about putting Mr. Castilleja on leave and their objection to that," Morris replied. He also said the protest lasted for a couple of months. During one day of protest, Morris said he was encouraged by Superintendent Sandra Pasiero-Davis to go outside and encourage the parents and children to get the kids back in the classroom.

Under cross examination by one of Castilleja's attorneys, Mario Ledesma, Morris was asked how he knew Castilleja was put on leave. "It was common knowledge within the school system and also through the media that that had occurred," Morris responded. Ledesma then asked if Castilleja was still an employee at that time and Morris responded, "I believe at that time he'd been put on administrative leave."

Ledesma asked if anyone accompanied Morris outside to encourage the students to return to class, and Morris responded that Castilleja had.

Under re-direct Tolcacher asked if Castilleja said anything to encourage the students to go back to class, and Morris responded that he did not.

Later in the day, the subject of Castilleja's employment status was brought up under cross-examination of Artz-Fox sixth grade teacher Kimberlyn A. Arrestouilh.

Ledesma asked Arrestouilh if she ever discussed the subject of Castilleja's contract non-renewal in her classroom, of which she responded yes. She then admitted that she used a metaphor to the students that if someone worked at McDonalds and was nice and friendly, but unable to cook a hamburger, then that person would be fired.

Ledesma asked how the students might have learned about it. Arrestouilh said they asked about it after coming in from the playground.

"Was it appropriate to discuss this with sixth grade children?" asked Ledesma.

"Perhaps not," responded Arristouilh.

Ledesma also asked her if she had ever requested staff to begin documenting incidents with Castilleja. She responded that she had.

Another 2004-05 teacher, Amanda Schuler, testified about her concerns regarding discipline during the school year and lack of communication regarding discipline.

Schuler testified that she only taught at Artz-Fox during that school year because she knew that she and her husband wanted to have a family and she didn't want to become pregnant in that stressful of an environment. She said that as the school year went on, she became more and more uncomfortable.

Under re-direct from Ledesma, she was asked about her previous teaching experience prior to that year. Schuler testified that she had not previously been employed as a full time teacher.

"This was your first year. You were getting acquainted with everything, the environment...you were just brand new. Do you think that may have had something to do with what you were feeling during this time?" Ledesma asked.

She responded that was not the case.

Schuler testified that she had became upset after an incident with Castilleja early on in the school year regarding blocking, which is a method of teaching. She said that Castilleja had approached her and asked her what she thought of it and she responded that she was in favor of it, but that he should refer to the other teachers who had experience in using the method. She testified that the conversation lasted between 30 to 45 minutes and that it had become heated.

She testified, "He kept pressuring me to basically agree that it wasn't a good idea...I remember leaving the room almost in tears."

She said that at one point during the conversation, "He stood up and got very aggressive. His body language made me uncomfortable."

Ledesma asked if it was possible that the duration of the conversation was due to the fact that Castilleja was trying to obtain as much information as possible or if Schuler believed the intent was to intimidate.

She responded that she believed by the end of the conversation, the intent was to intimidate.

Also interviewed yesterday was Artz-Fox elementary teacher Ted Chase, who was also the union building representative that year. He said that for various seasons, he felt that Castilleja desired to work problems out with staff members.

"The impression I got was that in the fall, winter and even into spring was that he wanted to work with us (staff) in a positive way," he said.

Tolcacher asked, "Do you recall getting good results?"

"No," Chase responded.

While being questioned by Ledesma, Chase was asked if he had ever heard a comment from a staff member with regard to Castilleja that was racially insensitive.

"Macho Mexican. I recall that phrase. I heard it probably in the staff room," Chase testified, but was unsure as to who, specifically, said it.

The hearing is expected to continue for the rest of this week.

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