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.
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.