Six Rubidoux High School educators — social science teacher Geoffrey Greer, art teacher Robin Riggle, science teacher Allen Umbarger, agriculture teacher Rhonda Fuller, science teacher Chuck Baugh and guidance counselor Patricia Crawford — are on paid leave after posting a number of astonishing, since-deleted remarks to their respective Facebook feed on Thursday, Feb. 16.
As you may recall, Feb. 16 marked the date of the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” strike, during which millions of immigrants across the U.S. boycotted their employers in response to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, namely his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and his travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (currently on hold).
Locally, about 80 students attending Rubidoux High — whose student body consists of 90.1 percent Hispanic students — boycotted classes in honor of the day, an act which prompted the six aforementioned school employees to publicly note on Facebook that classes had “no discipline issues” (Crawford) and the day was “very pleasant” (Riggle) without who Umbarger sweepingly termed as “failing students.” Words such as “lazy” and “drunk” were also used assumptively to describe the students’ excuses for skipping classes that day.
These comments prompted 150 students to walk off the Rubidoux campus the Friday following Thursday’s national boycott, marching down the surrounding sidewalks and on the nearby Patriot High School before returning to campus.
What is astonishing is how blatantly insensitive these educators were on a day intended to highlight the irreplaceable contributions of immigrants to U.S. business and culture. What makes the educators’ comments problematic is not only the obvious, fundamental issue that the men and women making them are, well, educators and thus expected to represent the campus and student body positively and impartially — at the least. The comments are also a microcosmic representation of an overall insensitivity to the racial injustices that many groups nationwide continue to outwardly decry, namely the very immigrants protesting that day.
It becomes more ludicrous that educators on a campus with over 1,400 Hispanic students would use the words “drunk” and “lazy” to describe their students. This, again, perpetuating uninformed stereotypes on a day when Hispanic and Latino immigrants were meant to be commemorated nationwide.
So sure, if advocating for these employees you may be inclined to argue for their right to free speech — a right which, partly through its overuse, has become increasingly convoluted in the current political climate. Such an argument, however, overlooks much of the context provided. Free speech is a given right, yes, but when this argument becomes a sweeping justification for hate speech, the argument assumes striking ambiguity. What is not ambiguous, though, is that these remarks, entitled to expression or not, are hurtful, damaging and normalize racial stereotypes of Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants.
The school administrators handled the comments by putting each of the six officials on paid leave, which they still remain on at time of writing (there is still no confirmation whether they have used this time off as an excuse to be lazy and get drunk.) The students, meanwhile were threatened with suspension, expulsion, citations for truancy, arrests and loss of privileges, per a recorded phone message sent from the district to parents Sunday, Feb. 19 and Monday, Feb. 20.
There is an imbalance here that needs to be acknowledged. While our board does not advocate for the firing of these officials, unpaid leave seems a more fitting punitive measure than paid, especially when considering the potential extent of punishments that could have been handed down to the students. It is also important to recognize that while the students have a right to freedom of protest, doing so in the form of a walkout from their high school is highly inappropriate. Not only is such an act a waste of taxpayer dollars spent on these students, the school is responsible for the safety of the students, and they cannot guarantee their safety when they willfully abandon their campus. It also does not help that a walkout like this is going to be viewed more widely as an opportunity to ditch than as a chance to make voices heard. Unfortunately, this further undermines their intended message.
Regardless, the educators at Rubidoux High hold immense responsibility to not only be cognizant of their school’s demographics but, more fundamentally, not publicly spew hate speech about the students they are in place to educate. Doing anything less is simply lazy.