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Parents testify in support of former Artz-Fox principal

MABTON - The third day of witness testimony in former Artz-Fox Principal Fabian Castilleja's contract non-renewal hearing got underway yesterday, with several parents testifying on his behalf.

Castilleja served as principal during the 2004-05 school year and is entitled to the administrative hearing under state statute.

Theresa Ahumada was the first parent supporter to take the stand. Ahumada works as a nurse and visits homes in Mabton, Sunnyside, Grandview, Granger and Toppenish.

Ahumada, who lives in the same neighborhood as Superintendent Sandra Pasiero-Davis, said she visited her home sometime in March or April after hearing from parents that Castilleja's contract would not be renewed.

During that discussion, she testified that Pasiero-Davis told her that Castilleja's performance needed to improve. Ahumada said she asked the superintendent to talk to Castilleja and that Pasiero-Davis told her she didn't think he liked taking orders from women. Ahumada testified that during this discussion, Pasiero-Davis said that Castilleja might be a good principal for another school but not for the Mabton community.

Parents saw Castilleja as a helper, Ahumada testified. She then joined a group of parents to meet with Pasiero-Davis to voice concerns over the non-renewal, she testified. The purpose of the meeting, she said, was to try to have the superintendent resolve problems with Castilleja. Also during the meeting, she testified another purpose was to express concern over teachers telling kids they were going to get rid of him.

During that meeting, she testified that Pasiero-Davis re-iterated what had been said when she alone had visited her home, that he had a hard time working with her because she was a woman.

At this point, Castilleja's attorneys presented a May 16, 2005 news article printed in the Daily Sun News about the student protest. Ahumada was asked if Castilleja was involved in any way in planning the protest. She testified that he wasn't.

Ahumada praised Castilleja's work with the parents. "I saw a lot more parent participation in activities, like Cinco de Mayo. There were a lot of parents there, like I'd never seen in one place."

Sandra Alaniz testified that her children attended the elementary school and that over the years, discipline has been a problem for her family.

During previous testimony, Paserio-Davis and other teachers at the school testified that one of the criticisms regarding Castilleja is what they say was an inability to have come up with a clear discipline document that would be communicated with teachers as to what steps to take in certain situations.

Alaniz testified that, over the period of years she had children attend Artz-Fox, discipline included her child being slapped on the hand, that her daughter was told to have a medical procedure to stop her period and that a disciplinary action for her son was to have him sit on the floor, legs spread, with his head on the floor. "He cried because his back hurt," she testified.

When Castilleja began his tenure, Alaniz was pleased with him and the changes she'd seen. "He did a really good job as principal," she testified, adding that he took the time to talk to her and her son even praised him.

She added there were more activities in the school during his tenure and that at the Cinco de Mayo event, "We really had a great time."

Alaniz was one parent who helped coordinate the protest, she testified, and that Castilleja encouraged parents to keep the kids in school.

School district attorney Jeanie Tolcacher confirmed with Alaniz under cross examination that the previous disciplinary problems had occurred prior to Pasiero-Davis' arrival.

Rachel Ruelas took the stand and testified that there was an incident with her child where a teacher hooked his arm under her child's and grabbed him like a hook out of the chair.

Ruelas testified that Castilleja made clear it was unacceptable, and made the teacher apologize to her child.

She also testified when there were disciplinary concerns regarding her children who attended school at Artz-Fox in the past, there was a significant delay in the time that it took for the school to notify her or her husband. "With Mr. Castilleja, everything was taken care of right then," she said.

During her testimony, she added, "The students, they loved him, they followed him."

She said she learned of the contract non-renewal situation when her son came to her after he heard teachers saying that Castilleja wasn't coming back as principal next year.

Ruelas testified that she was one of the parents involved in the protest, but Castilleja did not have involvement in that situation. She testified that the intent was to be heard. "We believed he was the one who had shown some change in our students, our kids," she said. Prior to that, she testified, "We were not being heard."

When Pasiero-Davis took the stand Thursday, and testified to Castilleja's accusations of racism in the district, she testified that she wrote an April 26, 2005 letter to Castilleja in response to an April 1, 2005 letter from him claiming a hostile work environment. In that letter, she testified she told Castilleja to be more specific. Castilleja had provided her with names of who had allegedly said certain things, but had not indicated who had brought them to his attention.

She testified that the superintendent must bring together both parties involved to work toward a resolution. She requested from Castilleja who the person was that had told him these comments were made. She requested details with names and specifics. She also testified that, at this time, emotions were running high and escalating to a level that she'd never seen.

She testified that Castilleja did not provide her with the information of the person who had made him aware of the alleged comments.

At one point during Pasiero-Davis' testimony early in the day, Castilleja's attorney, Kerri Wheeler Feeney, asked if the superintendent told Castilleja that he would have to work extra hard because a majority of the teachers are white. Pasiero-Davis responded that she didn't recall making that statement. Feeney then asked if it's possible she said something along the lines that he would have to work extra hard. She responded, "It's possible."

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