After working for more than a decade as a substitute teacher for Fort Worth public schools, Susan, a Black woman, thought committing to full-time work as an elementary school teacher would be a natural fit. We are concealing Susan’s real name to protect her from retaliation from school district leaders.
Her first year at Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary in 2020 was shaped by the turmoil of the pandemic. In-person classes resumed in October 2020, and Susan noticed that many Black students did not have access to computers at home. When she began fielding complaints from parents about the issue, the school’s principal, Débora Fuentes, allegedly changed her demeanor toward the new teacher. According to the school’s website, Fuentes has served the school district for 14 years as a teacher assistant, dual language teacher, and assistant principal.
“All of a sudden, I start getting walk-throughs from her,” Susan said, referring to the administrative practice of making unannounced in-person visits to a classroom to observe a teacher’s performance.
A Fort Worth school district spokesperson declined to comment on this story.
Around that time, a Black colleague warned Susan that Fuentes was allegedly known for retaliating against faculty she perceived as enemies. Susan alleges that the harassment and intimidation became so bad that she reached out to the local teacher’s union for advice. The union tried to remedy the situation by speaking with the principal, Susan alleges, but Fuentes refused to address the lingering issues during a Zoom meeting between her and union reps.
Susan alleges that, during her first two years at Van Zandt-Guinn, several Black teachers left or retired from the school.
I submitted open records requests with the school district two months ago. After multiple inquiries into the delays in forwarding information related to the number of teachers who have retired or left the elementary school in recent years and the teachers’ races, the school district continues to block my open records request.
At the advice of the teachers’ union, Susan drafted a letter to Fuentes seeking to settle their personal differences. The letter resulted in further walk-throughs and snide remarks from the principal, the teacher alleges.
Susan said the ongoing discrimination, allegedly due to Susan’s ethnicity, compelled her to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace.
Jonathan (not his real name) also works at Van Zandt-Guinn and backs up the grounds for Susan’s complaint.
“Under the administration of [Superintendent] Kent Scribner, there have been numerous allegations of bullying” by school administrators across the district, Jonathan told me. “The atmosphere at Van Zandt-Guinn has become rather toxic.”
Without stating why, Scribner recently announced that he will step down in August. Jonathan alleges that Fuentes failed to follow school district policy when reprimanding his professional conduct several times beginning in 2020.
“As an African American teacher, those steps are usually bypassed,” he alleged.
Jonathan provided descriptions of what he characterized as trivial and petty grounds for being formally reprimanded.
“I have received a reprimand because my student wrote his answer in the wrong answer slot during a workbook exercise,” he said.
Sarah, a longtime Black school district teacher who also wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an open letter that her year under Fuentes was the worst year ever.
Sarah alleges Fuentes would pass her and not say anything but then would greet the dual language teachers. The principal, she alleges, put Sarah on growth plans as a punitive measure.
“I would follow the plans to the letter, but she would put me on the same growth plan again,” Sarah said. “She accused me of giving fake test results and proceeded to have my students retested. She ultimately put me up for termination, and I had to fight to keep my job. She would write me up for every little thing.”
Susan, who filed the EEOC complaint, said Fuentes has put her in a difficult situation. Susan told me she is seeking a settlement with the school district in return for a contractual agreement that she will not pursue litigation elsewhere. The teacher did not disclose how much she is seeking from FWISD, and, under common practice, any settlement would likely come with a nondisclosure agreement.
“I can go to another district, but I’m living here in Fort Worth,” she said. “They just want the EEOC investigation to disappear.”