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Central teacher in limbo over his future

May 24, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

For the past two months Simon Marquez has been waiting for his fate to be decided.

The Central Union High School teacher was dismissed in March, the day after he learned he would not be rehired the following year.

The district has declined to comment on the dismissal, citing the situation a "personnel matter."

"I have spoken with Mr. Fragale and our legal counsel and at this time the district is not free to comment because it's a confidential personnel matter," said Sheri Hart, director of state and federal projects for the El Centro high school district.

Hart is acting superintendent while Superintendent Dick Fragale is out for eye surgery.

Marquez was escorted off campus in March and has not been allowed to return to the campus.

"I'm kind of in limbo right now," Marquez said.

"I still don't know what I'm guilty of. There is nothing in writing," he said.


Marquez claims to not know why he was escorted off the campus and why he has not been allowed to return to finish teaching this school year.

He said he is "concerned about the image given to the public about me. I look like a criminal when I haven't done anything."

Ron Nicholson, the teachers' union representative for Marquez, said the district has given only vague allegations against Marquez.

"There are allegations of misconduct," Nicholson said, although he added none of the allegations has been specified.

Nicholson said the union has decided to write a letter to the district accusing it of "violating his due process rights under the law and his contractual rights and that they're in violation of their contract with the union."

Nicholson said if the district doesn't respond, the union will consider other action.

Marquez has been in consultations with an attorney and said he intends "to pursue it to the fullest."

He would not specify what "the fullest" meant.

Marquez has accused the district of "changing the charges" against him.

He was a popular teacher with students, and students organized a rally after they learned he would not be returning next year. The student-led rally happened the morning after Marquez was escorted off campus. Marquez said being escorted off campus humiliated him.

"The entire classroom was full. Everybody saw," said Marquez.

He said he has been given three choices by the district to resolve the situation.

The first is to have a letter of "unprofessional conduct" placed in his personnel file.

"It's the most severe discipline rendered to a teacher," said Marquez.

Nicholson agreed, saying, "This is the ultimate, horrible punishment for someone who has been repeatedly warned. That letter is tantamount to firing."

He can accept the letter of unprofessional conduct in his file and remain on paid leave, said Marquez, or he can accept the letter of unprofessional conduct and go on unpaid leave for 15 days for "discipline."

Marquez said another option given to him by the district is to submit a letter of resignation, effective today, and all payments would cease.

His third choice is to submit a letter of resignation, dated the last day of school, "after which everything would just dissolve and go away."

"They're threatening me with money," he said, adding money is not an issue for him as he is a partner in an auto-detailing business in Brawley.

Marquez added, "None of the alternatives is the choice for me."

He asked, "If the letter of unprofessional conduct is so serious, they why are they so willing to take it away if I resign?"

He said he has 10 days to respond to the letter given to him by the district; the 10 days are up at the end of this week.

While he said he will respond, he said he doesn't understand the letter.

"I don't know what it is saying," Marquez said of the allegations facing him.

The letter states, "as a result of our investigation on the allegations previously discussed with you … it is my conclusion that the allegations have merit," a letter from Fragale states.

Nicholson said the allegations are based on letters received by the district from students in Marquez's classes.

The letters accuse Marquez of various charges including saying bad words in Spanish in class, blaming the students for his not being rehired next year, telling students about his personal life, showing a sanitary napkin when a female student asked to go to the bathroom and telling a female student she "stinks" after P.E. class.

Other allegations include writing "gang" style letters on the board and not telling students where their grades stood.

One letter, dated June 2000, accused Marquez of saying during his summer school class, "If you're tenured they can't fire you regardless of what you have done. … You can kill Ms. (Emma) Jones (Central's principal) and they still can't fire you."

Nicholson said Marquez was cleared of the alleged statements in that letter by the summer school principal.

Marquez has taught in the district for two and a half years and if retained was to become a tenured teacher next school year.

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