October 31, 2013

Protest of Modesto High campus supervisor’s firing goes viral

Alumni, parents and retired teachers from Modesto High gathered along H Street at noon Thursday to protest the firing of longtime campus supervisor Jackie Munn.

Alumni, parents and retired teachers from Modesto High School gathered along H Street at noon Thursday to protest a vote to fire longtime campus supervisor Jackie Munn.

Standing in black T-shirts reading “Justice for Jackie,” supporters urged students passing between classes to join them by walking out of classes at 1:55p.m., five minutes before the school day ended. School officials, however, simply dismissed the students five minutes early.

“It’s probably best – the path of least resistance,” said Mary Beth West, looking for her daughter in the scrum of students by the H Street stoplight at the front entrance of the school.

Roughly 1,000 students packed the area briefly after being dismissed, chanting “We want Jackie back-y!” and hamming it up for TV cameras, many in Halloween garb. About 200 stayed on for the next 20 minutes, waving signs and pumping arms to get passing drivers to honk.

“The student support was overwhelming,” said rally organizer Gina Hernandez, a 2001 graduate. “Jackie drove by twice, and I know it really made her feel great, made the students feel great to see her.”

Hernandez, now a technology worker who lives in San Francisco, created a petition seeking Munn’s reinstatement. By Thursday evening, it had more than 126,000 signatures, many from across the nation prompted by a mass emailing to its network.

As a campus supervisor, Munn is a member of the school support staff who helps provide security on campus.

West said her son on the East Coast heard about Munn’s case from there. “She didn’t make much money, and she spent every penny of it on other people,” West said, noting that Munn helped spay and find homes for any stray dog on campus. Others spoke of the dollars she pitched in to buy low-income seniors a class sweatshirt or collect for a student’s headstone.

Holding a sign that said “Don’t be wacky. Bring back Jackie!” 2012 grad Freddy Limmo said Munn “is the epitome of what Modesto High should be about.”

Frank Limmo, standing beside his son, said the family has known Munn for years. “She’d help families with funerals. If she had a dollar to her name, she would give it away,” he said.

But most at the rally talked about her people-savvy, respectful discipline and willingness to listen.

“I lost my dad as a sophomore, and she was a huge person I could turn to to help with that,” said 2005 graduate Maricela Ariza, as her space-suited 2-year-old squirmed.

Gloria Magaña, class of 2000, said she arrived new to the district and Munn introduced her around.

“She wasn’t just a campus supervisor,” Magaña said. “I was a loudmouth. Jackie would take me for a ride, talk to me about respect and stuff, calm me down. Then I’d go back to class and talk to the teacher.”

Juniors Pablo Hernandez and Alex Esparza said Munn was even nice when they got in trouble. “Even when she had to send you to the office,” Alex said, “she’d say, ‘Go to the office, bud. You gotta do it.’ She would never say it in a rude way.”

“She knew what she was doing,” said senior Toni Hernandez.

Retired history teacher Bill Bucknam said she got him through his first year as a high school teacher with discipline advice. “If I found gang stuff in a notebook or whatever, she’d always get to the bottom of it,” he said. “Living in the neighborhood, she always knew what was going on. The district is losing a real asset.”

Two 2013 grads said the March fight that led to Munn’s dismissal didn’t raise a ripple on campus. “It wasn’t a big deal until Jackie left,” said Cinthia Robles.

On the petition, Hernandez says the incident happened while controlling a combative teen, restrained and on the floor after repeatedly attacking a female student. The boy tried to get up and Munn pushed him down, according to the description, which says the young man did not require medical attention.

A final board vote on Munn’s status will be taken in closed session Nov.12. The district released a statement Thursday saying the initial vote to terminate was based on grounds of neglect of duty, insubordination and violation of a statute. But it refused to confirm or deny any details of the incident.

“Only the employee can share the documents that specify the facts supporting this action or sign a release at any time allowing the district to share this information,” the statement said.

Munn did not agree to share the investigation’s findings, union president Aaron Castro said.

“Jackie is not interested in releasing a statement or opening the file at this time,” said Castro, head of the Modesto chapter the California School Employees Association. Castro said the petition’s version of events was essentially accurate, but the union is waiting for the district’s finding of facts before saying more. He said Munn has been on paid leave since the incident.

But Munn did issue a statement to be read by Hernandez, thanking those who rallied to her support. “I want to also let you know that the male student involved had absolutely nothing to do with my firing. That came about by a handful of adults that chose to take this to another level,” the statement said.

Board members Rubén Villalobos and Sue Zwahlen, both running for re-election, released a joint statement Thursday evening saying the board’s action “was based solely on the facts presented to the board at the hearing on Oct. 22,” not on Munn’s advocacy for campus supervisor raises or other accusations circulating. “The board acted solely in the interest of protecting our students,” the email said.

Reached by phone, Villalobos said unpopular decisions are part of the job.

“We’re getting about 50 emails a day over this, from all around the country,” he said.

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