ARLINGTON -- A junior high math teacher who has been suspended since Sept. 30 for making an insensitive remark to a Hispanic student was reinstated by the school board Thursday night after a brief closed hearing.
Trustees voted 5-0 to accept the recommendation of a hearing examiner that Shirley Bunn should return to the classroom. But the examiner also recommended that she not return to Barnett Junior High School.
Bunn was moved to tears and hugged several of the 20 or more parents, teachers and others who came to support her.
Asked by reporters for her reaction, Bunn said, "Relieved, and ready to go back to the classroom." She described her time away from her students as "horrible. I've been so worried about my kids."
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Bunn was put on paid administrative leave after saying, "Go back to Mexico" to a student whom she and others described as being disruptive.
Trustees Tony Pompa and Gloria Pena were absent Thursday. Board President Peter Baron said that Pompa was away on business and that traffic delayed Pena.
Luis Castillo, past president of the Arlington chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, noted that the two are the only minorities on the school board.
He criticized the board's vote as insensitive to minorities.
"It is disturbing to know that the Arlington school board condones racial remarks by their teachers," Castillo said. "What they're saying today is, it's OK if you make a racial remark -- the punishment you get, we'll just transfer you to another school."
Testimony in the case
According to testimony cited in the hearing examiner's recommendation, the student repeatedly said, "I'm Mexican," indicating that he needed a Spanish version of a document that Bunn was distributing. Bunn said that she ran out of the forms before she got to his row and that the student continued the statement.
Bunn declined to discuss the incident Thursday night, but last week she told the Star-Telegram that she reacted in a moment of intense frustration and "couldn't believe that came out of my mouth." She said, "I truly think I meant, 'Go to the office.'"
In his 23-page recommendation, examiner Jess Rickman III noted Bunn's "superlative" performance appraisals and said her conduct and remarks are not enough grounds for termination. He recommended sensitivity training.
The United Educators Association, which provided much of Bunn's defense, expected the hearing Thursday to be public. But just before it started, Peter Bagley, an attorney paid partly by the group, asked that it be closed.
Afterward, trustees emerged into open session and voted without discussion.
Castillo said the mother of the student involved does not want to comment to the media. She attended but left quickly after the vote.
Castillo said the boy now attends another junior high school. District officials made the offer and the family accepted, Castillo said. He said the boy was feeling "peer pressure" over his role in the incident.
After the vote, trustees directed questions to Baron, who said, "It was the right thing to do."
Bagley said Bunn's remark to the student "was a very isolated incident."
"There were a lot of factors that went on," he said. "She just made a mistake. She slipped up, just a fleeting moment in time."
Bagley said the next step would be to ask the district to consider allowing Bunn to return to Barnett Junior High.
In a brief interview in the parking lot afterward, Bunn said Barnett is where she wants to be. Robert Cadwallader,