Nearly 6 months ago, an incident occurred which left a classroom without a teacher. 6 months later, the students describe what happened.
Emyr Ortiz, Nami Nair, Darcy Chew, Shreya Daschoudhary, Mata Elangovan
Every so often, a familiar headline pops up in the news: “Teacher Fired After Racist Incident in US High School.” Many of us scoff and internally think “Well, that doesn’t happen here in Fremont.” However, last December, American High School had an incident of its own.
Maggie Sandoval, a junior in Ms. Gonzalez’s 6th period English class, recounts her perspective of the event that occurred involving Ms. Gonzalez saying the N-word.
“Some kid in our class drew a stereotypical image of a Black person with big ears and a big nose and big lips. And [Ms. Gonzalez] has all these different posters on her window, and they, [the student], put [the drawing] up there. And [Ms. Gonzalez] saw them do that and so she went to them, grabbed it out of their hands, and then told them, ‘We’re gonna talk about this later.’”
As the students attested, Gonzalez used this as a teachable moment and began a discussion with her class about the importance of Black history and anti-racism in general.
“She proceeded to say a lot of comments that were questionable at best and offensive at worst. She referenced one situation where she had said that her son says the N-word a lot. And he says it in a way that’s commonly used to refer to someone as a friend or someone you know. She said that when he says it [the N-word], she’ll flip it back at him. We were unsure as to what she meant when she said that, and it was a majority of the class’ interpretation that she says it back to him,” recalls Ethan Tanaka, another junior in Gonzalez’s 6th-period class.
“Even though she gave this speech to the whole class, there are some students who are Black, and she went up to them specifically and decided to tell them a story.”
Erianna Jackson (11) was one of these students.
“[Ms. Gonzalez] comes in, sits down in front me, and was like, ‘So Erianna and Mamoun, how do you feel about this? How do you feel about this whole situation?’ And I was like, ‘I feel like it’s good that we’re learning about it, but I feel like it could have been done in a different setting. This is a little weird.’”
According to Jackson, Gonzalez went on to explain why the drawing that the students made was offensive, but Jackson’s opinion was that the student meant no harm in drawing it, saying, “What we drew was just our imagination of somebody with overexaggerated features. Nothing to do with [Ms.Gonzalez], [her] son, or the poster.” The motive behind the creation of the drawing still remains unclear.
Gonzalez continued her discussion with them, and Jackson states that “She was like, ‘How do you feel about this? How would you feel if somebody called you the N-word?’ But she actually said it [the N-word]. She actually said it with the -ER. She said it twice.”
According to Jackson, Gonzalez had used the racial slur two times, when trying to explain how offensive certain behaviors and words could be to the Black community.
Jackson was stunned. “[Gonzalez] said it so freely, without any hesitation or nothing.”
Jackson ended up walking out of the classroom and to her counselor Ms. Barwani’s office, shaken by her conversation with Gonzalez.
Jocelyn Tamboura, another Black student in the class, felt strongly about what Gonzalez was saying and decided to confront her.
“I said, ‘Why do you feel the need to feel offended when something like this happens to the Black community when you’re not Black?’ And she just kept bringing up that she has a Black son. So therefore she has a right in what to say.”
Sometime later during the period, according to students, Gonzalez began to backtrack on her statements.
Tanaka recounts that “She had said that the mask was muffling what she was really trying to say. She said, ‘Oh, I did not say the N-word. I said the phrase.’ And people really didn’t buy into that. That, I think, upset people more, that she was trying to cover it up.”
After winter break, students returned to their English class to find that Ms.Gonzalez had not returned, leaving all of her class periods to be supervised by either substitutes or other teachers until the students were dispersed into other 11th grade English classes.
Sandoval explains, “We got literally nothing. We kept getting thrown subs for a bunch of weeks. We did not have work for two or three months. And then all of a sudden…they were assigning work. We had no due dates, eventually people were like, ‘Why do we need to do this? She’s not coming back. There’s no due date.’”
An investigation was opened, but not much information has been released about what happened to Gonzalez after winter break.
Sandoval states that “Ms. Barrington, later on, I think in March [or] April, interviewed a couple of us that were talking and asking about it. So I feel like they did an actual investigation… everyone kept saying she might be back and other people saying she [was] suspended. She was under investigation. Then it turned into she was suspended. And it turned into early retirement. And then after we heard about early retirement, we got switched into a new teacher.”
According to the “2022 FUSD Retirees Video” posted on the Fremont Unified School District Channel on YouTube, Ms. Gonzalez was officially announced as one of this year’s retirees. The motivation behind her retirement is unclear, and at this time the Eagle Era can only confirm that she will not be returning, not the reasons that led to this decision. Ms. Gonzales has not responded to a request for comment on this story. AHS administration also has not provided a comment.