Students protest teacher's dismissal; claim violation of First Amendment rights

More than 50 students packed an Alhambra Unified School District board meeting on Tuesday to voice concerns about the dismissal of an English teacher who formerly taught at San Gabriel High School.
 
Andrew Nguyen, who had spent one year teaching English and three years coaching the Speech and Debate team, was told by administrators that they would not be renewing his contract for the 2015-2016 school year. Administrators have not made public the reason for their decision.
 
In May, students planned a protest of Nguyen's dismissal outside of SGHS's graduation ceremony. Nguyen told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that, after hearing of these plans, the Alhambra Teachers Association warned him that the district could have the protesters arrested. Nguyen asked the students to call off the protest, and the event was canceled.
 
The situation escalated further after Principal Jim Schofield demanded that the newspaper stop publishing details about the situation, according to the SGHS student newspaper The Matador. "The Matador views this as a clear violation of the freedom of the press under the First Amendment," the student paper responded in a statement on its website.
 
The board room at Tuesday's meeting was filled to capacity. Students spoke about Nguyen's commitment as a teacher, saying that he helped revive the Debate team, often worked overtime, and that he was a boon to their self-esteem.
 
"In my freshman year, if I were to speak in front of all of you today, it would have given me a panic attack," said Carolina Garcia, a member of Debate. "However, here I am delivering a speech to you board members and feeling fine. I owe all this to Mr. Nguyen."
 
Parents also spoke in favor of Nguyen. David Quach, whose child is on the debate team, said that Nguyen played a major role in his daughter's newfound confidence. "If all these students see that he is such a great teacher and coach, and I see how Speech and Debate has enhanced my daughter's life, what are we parents supposed to think when he's let go without a reason?" said Quach.
 
Andrew Nguyen (third from left) with students | Photo courtesy of Andrew Nguyen
 
Members of The Matador also denounced what they saw as censorship. "Students have a right to know about the state of their school," said Rebecca Lei, editor-in-chief of The Matador. She said that greater transparency would prevent students from "speculating about the issue at hand."
 
School Board Member Patricia Rodriguez-Mackintosh said the comments it was unfair that Nguyen was not given a reason for his dismissal were incorrect. "He was given a reason," she said. "You will have to ask him again."
 
Nguyen did not attend the meeting. "I deeply wish I could be there with everyone at the board meeting," Nguyen told the Source prior to the meeting. "But I have been advised by my colleagues, as well as other professionals, to let the parents and students organize and speak for themselves without my involvement."
 
Current and former students have mobilized on social networks to voice their support of Nguyen; they've taped a YouTube video and created a Facebook page. "I've been incredibly touched by all the support that's materialized around me," said Nguyen.
 
Schofield has not yet responded to a request for comment.
 
An earlier version of this story misidentified the first name of Principal Jim Schofield. Alhambra Source regrets the error. 

5 thoughts on “Students protest teacher's dismissal; claim violation of First Amendment rights”

  1. Wow – UNLAWFUL CENSORSHIP (by the principal) by not allowing the school paper to cover this situation. Treat students as adults, they will eventually be adults and having to arrive at their own conclusions. I SAY THE STUDENTS PROTESTING THIS SITUATION NEED TO HAVE THE ACLU (AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION) DEFEND THEIR RIGHT TO PROTEST (if the planned protest would not have been on school property, the principals CANNOT ARREST THE STUDENTS!!!). The reason(s) for this teacher’s dismissal is not known, but school administrators DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT FROM ALLOWING STUDENTS TO EXERCISE THEIR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS! Perhaps a lawsuit against the school administrators might be something to consider (in order to protect their [students] First Amendment rights. This should not be allowed to happen in America!!!

  2. Students and parents do not understand the idea of precedent.

    The school board absolutely cannot rehire this teacher. Because it wouldn’t open the door to having students and parents protested whenever they disliked the dismissal of a non-contract – temporary contract – or nontenured teacher.

    Many at the school and school district may in fact want his teacher on-campus. But their hands are tied. You cannot open up a president so th many at the school and school district may in fact want his teacher on-campus. But their hands are tied. You cannot open up a precedent like this to interfere with their system of hiring and tenure.

    The union will not let them as much as the district cannot allow the precedent.

    1. Alhambra Source reader

      I don’t know anything about this teacher but I just cannot agree to John Daciuk’s “no precedent” argument. If a mistake is made, it should be corrected. One cannot hide behind the “no precedent” argument. A court, or even the same judge, can reverse its earlier decision. If my boss fired me today, and he regretted, he certainly could rehire me tomorrow. I think this “no precedent” argument does not hold up both legally and in common sense; it is just a nonsensical excuse. I just hate to see this “no precedent” argument spread to become lazy and incompetent people’s justification to not correct their errors.

    2. Reader with Common Sense

      “The idea of precdent”? That’s silly. It is normal for people to protest in front of the legislature, the office of a senator, the city hall, etc. It is the duty of public officials to review their decisions if new information is available or there is new development. If they decide to stand by their original decision after considering the new data, that’s fine. If they think there is need to modify or reverse their decision, they should do it without the fear of “open[ing] up a precedent.” Such fear is not an excuse for not correcting a mistake. If the school board’s “system of hiring and tenure” is such that “their hands are tied,” then there is something wrong with that system and that needs to be fixed. Humans make mistakes, no system should forbid the correction of mistakes.

  3. Carolina Loaisiga

    Very well-written article, displays a lot of information about the meeting but just one error, it is Jim Schofield, not Paul Schofield. Otherwise, as I mentioned earlier, well written article. Good day.

Leave a Reply