A two-time “Teacher of the Year” in Arlington is now fighting to keep her job after allegedly telling a Hispanic student to “Go back to Mexico.”

Barnett Junior High School math teacher Shirley Bunn has 24 years of teaching experience. But her career could end with what she called a moment of frustration.

Bunn admitted she lost her temper on Sept. 30 while distributing Title 1 forms to her eighth grade students.

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According to public documents, a student who had a history of being disruptive repeatedly asked his teacher for a form printed in Spanish by saying, “I’m Mexican. I’m Mexican.”

The documents said Bunn tried to tell him that he could get the forms in the office but he continued to argue with her and repeat, “I’m Mexican.”

In response, Bunn blurted out “[Then] go back to Mexico.”

“This is a wonderful excellent teacher who simply made a mistake and the administration jumped to the worst case scenario of termination when they didn’t have to,” said Larry Shaw, a representative from the United Educators Association.

An independent hearing examiner has recommended that the district reinstate Bunn. In his opinion he wrote the district failed to provide sufficient grounds to terminate her. He also cited her student approval, excellent appraisals, two “Teacher of the Year” awards and volunteer efforts with a Hispanic heritage organization.

“I mean, she was a great teacher. She was really good at helping students. I wouldn’t expect that to happen,” said Shayma Sindi, a Barnett eighth grader.

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The documents do reference one other incident in which Bunn refers to a disruptive group of boys in class as the “Mexican mafia” in a private conversation with a counselor.

But the independent examiner decided the remark based on its context was not disparaging, degrading or demeaning. He had the same conclusion about the “Go back to Mexico” comment.

“Under the circumstances when taken in the context of the moment and the lack of intent for ‘Go back to Mexico’ to be a racially or nationality-based pejorative remark, I find it was not a remark of an egregious nature,” the independent examiner said.

“I can understand the teacher getting upset. But at the same time they got to watch what they say,” said Darrell Holder, a concerned parent.

The school board is expected to meet about the reinstation recommendation before next month. Trustees could reject it, but Bunn’s union representative believes that is unlikely. 

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