New Akins Principal: Running from Ysleta?

Ysleta ISD board apologizes for actions of former Bel Air High School Principal Daniel Girard, who is coming here to head Akins High School

Last week the Ysleta Independent School District board officially apologized for the actions of former Bel Air High School Principal Daniel Girard, who will be coming to Austin to head Akins High School in August. Teachers brought grievances against Girard last October, claiming he violated state law by forcing them to work through their lunch periods. They also claimed Girard and other principals harassed them in retaliation for their grievances.

Teachers said Girard made them attend mandatory committee meetings during their 30-minute lunches, despite a state law that guarantees teachers the right to a lunch free of duty. Girard required them to meet in order to allocate funds from a massive restructuring grant. The grant was meant to include compensation for extra duty, but teachers never saw a dime, said teacher Denisa Garcia, who helped draft the grant proposal. Instead, Garcia said, they were forced to work without pay during lunch hours. The district apologized for the violation of Texas Education Agency code but didn't compensate teachers for unpaid work. Still, they see the apology as a victory. "It was never about money," Garcia said. "We've now had the school board say point blank that these are your rights under the law, and we're going to uphold your rights."

After the 12 teachers filed grievances, they claim, Girard and other administrators launched a campaign of harassment and retaliation. The teachers were ostracized and isolated from the rest of the school, said Ysleta Teachers Association President Teri Sanchez. "It divided the whole school. You were either on his side or their side," Sanchez said. One teacher, who asked that her name not be used, said the 12 teachers were singled out for visits by assistant principals three times a day. Sanchez added that several had been department heads before and Girard stripped them of their positions.

Former teacher John Russell said the harassment pushed him to resign. In an e-mail, Russell described Girard as "cruel, dishonest, bullying and cowardly" and said this ordeal has made him question whether he even wants to remain in the profession. "Yes, I regret my quitting," said Russell. "But, Girard broke me, and that doesn't make me a hero, it just makes me human." YISD is bringing in an independent investigator to verify teachers' claims of retaliation – potentially a violation of federal law.

Teachers also allege that Girard misused grant money, treating administrators to expensive retreats while denying teachers' requests to attend training conferences. Girard also allowed his wife, a teacher at a nearby elementary school, to use resources intended for Bel Air students, Garcia said. Girard purchased additional licenses to use a computer reading program for his wife's students and, as a result, had licenses for Bel Air students removed, she said.

Although he could not be reached for comment, in a previous interview Girard denied that he was coming to Austin to flee troubles at his former school. However, Sanchez claims Ysleta Superintendent Hector Montenegro – a former Austin Independent School District administrator – told her that he had used his connections to get Girard a job in Austin. By the time the grievances made it to the board in June, Girard already had one foot out the door.

"Girard can change, maybe," said Russell. "But it's vital that you folks in Austin know what you are getting in that man, and I indeed hope he is capable of rehabilitation."

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AISD, Ysleta Independent School District, Bel Air High, Daniel Girard, Akins High School, Denisa Garcia, Ysleta Teachers' Association, Teri Sanchez, John Russell, Hector Montenegro

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