A Clovis East High School teacher issued a formal response Monday to a report made by one of his students that contended he told her to “go back to your country” when he reprimanded her for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Freshman Thailia Luna said that agriculture science teacher Ken Dias took her phone after she refused to stand during the pledge on Feb. 7. “He repeatedly told me I was a disgrace and continuously yelled at me across the classroom from his desk,” Luna, 14, wrote in the report obtained by The Bee. “A student began to cry and asked him to stop and he told her to shut up.”
Luna, who is Hispanic and Laotian and was born in the United States, said she refused to stand for the pledge because of race issues, mimicking NFL players who sparked controversy for kneeling during the national anthem.
Dias was a finalist for Fresno County’s teacher of the year in 2016 and a Crystal Award winner in 2015, Clovis Unified’s highest employee award. He did not return requests for comment on Feb. 12, when the news broke of the incident report.
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But on Presidents Day, a statement by Dias was posted by several news outlets in Fresno (the statement was not provided to The Bee and Dias could not be reached Monday). In it Dias says the “statements attributed to me are blatantly erroneous, and or severely taken out of context.”
He adds that he has valued student diversity throughout his teaching career and has sought to treat all his pupils with respect.
The statement also includes a section of actions that he must take in light of the recent incident.
A Clovis Unified School District official said Monday she could not discuss the situation because it was a personnel matter.
Here is the statement as reported by the Clovis Roundup weekly newspaper:
“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018 it is alleged that I made inappropriate comments and acted unprofessionally towards a student in my classroom, after she refused to stand for the Flag Salute. In the Letter of Reprimand, I am quoted as saying things like she should be ‘ashamed’ and ‘embarrassed,’ and that I felt that she was ‘disrespecting our country’ by not standing and using her cell phone during the Pledge of Allegiance. I am also attributed to stating that I had ‘family that fought in wars,’ and that ‘if you don’t want to stand for our country, you should go back to your country.’
Furthermore, I have been directed to improve the following areas:
You will be professional and use a positive and supportive tone when addressing your students in the classroom.
You will not make statements that can be perceived as discriminatory.
You will maintain an appropriate tone when disciplining a student. You will refrain from becoming upset at a student, even when you disagree with their actions.
You will refrain from humiliating a student in front of their peers.
I fully acknowledge and understand the content and corresponding instructions dictated in the memorandum. However, this acknowledgment is not to be interpreted as an admission of wrongdoing. I am advised and understand that this matter is considered resolved, and no further action against me is pending or being investigated as it pertains to the incident detailed above. As I indicated on the face of the memorandum, by underlining, and printing the word ‘wrong.’ The statements attributed to me are blatantly erroneous, and or severely taken out of context. It is not a secret, that I am a proud American. I embrace daily what it means to be an American. I appreciate the luxuries afforded to all us by this great country. One of those luxuries, is that we are free to express our ideas and beliefs without undue bias or discrimination. For many months, the student referenced here, has chosen to remain seated during the Flag Salute, without any comment or discourse. Although it would not be my choice, I respect that she does in fact have a choice. Never, have any criticisms or discriminatory comments been made to this student regarding her choice to remain seated. This issue stems, not from this student’s right to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance, but rather her cell phone use during class. She was initially instructed that she should not be on her cell phone. My request was met by this student with argument and hostility. This reaction stimulated a somewhat political discussion, as there are various points of view and opinions surrounding this very popular movement to remain seated during our Pledge of Allegiance. I understand that her intent, is to emulate what has become popular in today’s professional sports arena, where athletes have chosen to kneel as opposed to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Although, I do not agree with this display, I accept it as part of our constitutional right to choose. Because I love this country and everything that it stands for, I would never intentionally infringe on the fundamental right to choose, nor would I ever intentionally humiliate a student based on, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, class, sexual preference, sexual orientation or for any other reason.
I am an educator, I have been dedicated and loyal not only to my employer, Clovis Unified School District, but also to my students, and this community. I believe that Agriculture is an essential industry not only for the Central Valley, but for the entire State of California. The industry of Agriculture is one of, if not the most diverse industries in the world, it encompasses many unique and different ideas, theories and concepts. I have dedicated my entire career to teaching students the value and importance of agriculture. With this great responsibility, I have the privilege to work with students from all different walks of life and cultures, I welcome this diversity, and approach it as an opportunity for me to unite students through this diversity using Agriculture, the very thing that I have dedicated my life and teaching to, as an example of the importance of diversity and how it affects the world. For example, farmers use diversity in planting crops, crops are rotated and changed to help preserve the soil and the land, to ensure the success of future crops, diversity is an essential factor.
I am saddened deeply to know that a student has felt anything other than respect from me. I am resolute in my position that it was never my intention to isolate, humiliate, discriminate, or embarrass a student. Additionally, I was shocked by the amount of media and attention that this incident has generated. Although I realize that the District does not control what is reported in the media, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how discouraging it is to see how the media has portrayed this situation. I genuinely hope, that nothing reported by the media will hold any bearing on my reputation as a dedicated teacher. I have taken much joy and pleasure watching my students grow and excel and become successful and productive members of society. I have enjoyed many successes as an educator and a coach, I am very proud of the legacy I have created through the Agricultural Department of Clovis Unified School District, my students and teams have competed for over 30 years proudly and respectfully wearing the name ‘Clovis.’ It is my intention to continue to strive for excellence as an educator for Clovis Unified. In 2015 I was honored to be the recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award, presented by the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, I am proud of this achievement, and aim to continue to uphold the standards expected by the district, but more importantly, exceed those standards based on the goals and expectations I have set for myself and followed over the course of my career.”