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Popular teacher’s dismissal causes uproar among graduating seniors

May 23, 2014

Bishop Union High School's graphics arts and multi-media teacher was let go Tuesday, leaving students questioning why.

Students at Bishop High School have rallied around teacher Zack Quintana since the graphic design/multi-media teacher was let go Tuesday. At this point, realizing they can’t undo what’s already happened, the hope of the most active students is that at least their teacher will be able to attend graduation.
The details of the firing are from Quintana’s perspective. As a Regional Occupation Program teacher, the Inyo County Office of Education does the hiring, the vetting and the firing. School administrators cannot speak to personnel matters. Administrators are standing by their decision.
According to both students and Quintana, and indirectly administrators, the issue stemmed from a picture on Quintana’s Instagram account. “I set up that account three years ago,” he explained. Quintana is a graphic artist and the account was set up as a professional site. “When I was hired to teach, I set the account up to be private. I control who has access and I put a disclaimer on the site that the material was private and not for minors.”
The posting in question shows a young man holding up a leaf with “F--- the Police” as the headline. The leaf is not marijuana, though the implied joke seems to be that the young man thinks it is.
Bishop Unified School District Superintendent Barry Simpson issued the following statement:
“This individual no longer works in our district. His activities online reflect a serious lack of judgment, a lack of professionalism and an inability to be a positive role model to our students. He will no longer be allowed on our campus.
“We have an outstanding teaching staff at Bishop Unified and we do not want one individual to detract from the great work our teachers do. We look forward to celebrating an outstanding year with our graduating senior class.
“This statement ends the discussion on this topic and the Bishop Unified School District will not make any further comment.”
“Ironic” is the word several students used to describe the posting. “He was making fun of students who think they’re cool,” said BUHS senior Joshua Cash.
With the private status of Quintana’s Instagram account, only those he has allowed to view the site can access it. It is still unclear as to how administrators saw the posting.
Quintana thinks his involvement in creating a union for ROP teachers could be the real reason he was dismissed. He noted inconsistencies in administrative reaction to material posted on teachers’ social media sites.
Tuesday morning, Quintana told his students he wouldn’t be back after this year. The student reaction was immediate.
“We had to make a move, right then, right there,” said senior Roland McClean. The move came in the form of 100-150 Instagram posts in support of Quintana, the creation of the #teamquintana hash tag which began trending, flyers and T-shirts. Later that day, Quintana was put on administrative leave, effective immediately. According to Quintana and his students, he was told he couldn’t attend the school graduation ceremony.
“He was one of the most thanked teachers at graduation last year,” said Cash, “and he’d only been teaching one year. He’s going to be one of the most thanked this year and he won’t be there to hear it.”
McClean’s initial posting was “the school is losing a great man.” “The students went nuts,” he said Wednesday. “The (school) administration didn’t like it at all.”
The level of the administration’s reaction was described as “harsh” by a student not directly involved in #teamquintana. The atmosphere on campus Tuesday was “tense.” Some students who are strong supporters of Quintana have interpreted the administration’s actions as threatening; others in the former teacher’s class don’t agree with that interpretation.
According to the students who contacted The Inyo Register, Quintana’s connection with his students set him apart. “He would listen,” said Cash, “it was like talking to just another guy, but he knew the boundaries.”
One of Quintana’s students who preferred not to be identified was encouraged by the teacher to take his graphic arts course. “I had no idea what I was going to do (after graduation),” the student said. Now the student knows and has already done work professionally in the field.
Dana Wilcher, a senior at BUHS, describes Quintana as “a window to the real world.” “You could go to him for advice,” she said. “He was honest and trustworthy.”
Wilcher, an accomplished fine artist, went to Quintana for advice. “I felt trapped,” she said, “I was drawing what I saw” and didn’t know how to break out of that box. “He changed the way I think about art,” she said. “He taught me something ordinary could be an inspiration … That’s the most helpful thing anyone’s ever told me. It changed my life.”
Wilcher’s post in support of Quintana says, simply, “Some teach us how to memorize and forget; he taught us to see and think.”


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