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2 ESL students pulled from Messicks class found to be fluent in English
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RIPON — Two students that Ripon Unified leaders pulled from Terry Messick’s performing arts classes because she wasn’t fluent in Spanish turned out to be able to readily speak and understand English according to testimony presented on Tuesday.

The incident at the beginning of the school year reportly was part of the district’s rationale for trying to dismiss the Ripon High teacher because she hadn’t taken Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development training needed to make her more sensitive to the unique learning requirements of those who cannot speak English.

Yet testimony offered Tuesday in Messick’s administrative hearing over her dismissal indicated the two students in question were sent back to the classroom after being reclassified, determined they could readily speak and understand English.

Messick is facing dismissal from her Ripon High School post of some 30 years after refusing to take the CLAD classes designed to prepare teachers for English learners in their classrooms.  She sat next to her attorney in the high school’s multi-purpose auditorium during the hearing that began at 10 a.m. and ran until 5. Several of her students sat in the audience.  

High school placement counselor Mike Morenzone told an administrative law panel on Tuesday – the second day of a hearing to dismiss Messick – that there were only two students in question of being placed in her classroom.

Morenzone added that there were just “one or possibly two” students to his knowledge the year before who had language problems that made counselors resistant in placing them in the performing arts or music programs.  He noted that he has control over only one portion of the student population placement being designated by alphabetic association.

Morenzone said that Messick’s popular classes were usually crowded with 35 to 40 students with an overflow of requests.   He said he had to often deny placement in her classes because registrations were beyond student limits.

The counselor said it is not uncommon for a student to sign up for more than the allowed seven class periods because students don’t always get exactly what they want.  Two of the classes can often meet at the same time period.  He added that the ESL language requirements of students are usually taught in the first two weeks of school.

While there were a number of witnesses on call to testify Tuesday, former Superintendent Leo Zuber was called back to the stand as the panel convened.  Zuber continued to be questioned most of the afternoon hours after an hour-long lunch break.

A former district administrator, Lisa Boje’, is scheduled to testify either today or Thursday as is another school placement counselor and current school district superintendent Louise Nan.

A retired school secretary has launched a Facebook page calling for the support of the longtime performing arts teacher.  Nearly 300 students from present and past have signed onto the page telling how Messick’s teaching style has affected their lives.  One, currently an attorney, reflects on how he had used what she had taught him throughout his college years.

Zuber said he offered to give the teacher time off to take the course work and suggested she cancel the spring play, however Messick declined.  She said she couldn’t do that to the kids who had signed up for the drama production, he recalled.

Zuber added that her certification was more important to him and to the district than the spring play.  

Zuber: If students test low in English that doesn’t mean they are put in English developmental classes
California Teachers’ Association (CTA) attorney Thomas Driscoll asked Zuber if a student who tests low in English is placed in English Development classes.  The former superintendent responded, “Not necessarily.”

Driscoll also questioned Messick’s part in directing other musical activities such as the barbershop quartet that sings on Valentine’s Day as well as choir and competitions.  Zuber contrasted Messick’s extracurricular activities with that of two other instructors who also had to obtain their CLAD certification.

He explained that they were assigned to the Ripon JROTC unit that made it to all the football games, school board meetings and five-day summer camps as far away as Bakersfield and Pomona.

Messick received stipends for serving as the vocal music director and the instrumental music director.  Zuber said he cut one stipend down to 25 percent when the band was not assigned to play in home football games as he had requested following public reaction in the summer of 2007.

School district attorney Marleen Sax questioned why the district hadn’t placed Messick on paid administrative leave throughout her due process rather than leaving her in the classroom, hearing that the school district would have to pay a substitute’s salary.

Driscoll quoted Zuber as having told trustees that the district could be sued if the parents of any English learners filed a civil rights action.  The superintendent noted there were no parent complaints.

The attorney asked Zuber what he saw as a danger in keeping Messick employed in the district.

“The danger to the teachers is chaos.  If teachers start deciding what they will do and what they will not do, we risk chaos, and that is dangerous to everybody,” he said.