Local News

Officials: Teacher's Problems Bigger Than Anti-Islam Speaker in Class

Posted October 17, 2007 9:46 a.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2007 9:09 p.m. EDT

— Problems with a Wake County teacher ran much deeper than his decision to invite an anti-Islam speaker to class, Wake Public Schools officials said Wednesday.

In a rare move, officials released a portion of former Enloe High School teacher Robert Escamilla’s personnel file to the media Wednesday. Escamilla called the assessment unfair and said his style wasn't questioned for 18 years at Enloe.

An investigation last year showed he asked sex education questions on history tests, was unable to produce grades and made disparaging comments, labeling one student "miss Jew" during a teaching exercise, according to the file.

Officials also said he was unable to produce grades for four of his six classes and did not have instructional plans.

Escamilla was suspended with pay on Feb. 27 after he invited Kamil Solomon, head of Kamil International Ministries, to his class on Feb. 15. Solomon handed out pamphlets entitled “Why Women Should Not Marry Muslims.”

School officials said e-mails revealed that Escamilla knew Solomon's presentation and distribution of materials would denigrate Islam and promote Christianity. In one such e-mail, Solomon said he did not support the idea of Muslims attending the guest-speaking engagement.

School officials said Escamilla crossed a line, and the speaker was unacceptable. Escamilla was later transferred to Mary E. Phillips High School. Escamilla testified Monday before a grievance committee in his effort to get a 12-page reprimand removed from his employment file.

On Tuesday, the school board decided to keep Escamilla's reprimand in the personnel file and he will remain at Mary E. Phillips High School.

In a memorandum, Wake County Schools Superintendent Del Burns wrote that there were issues regarding Escamilla's performance of his teaching duties, particularly in his World History and Freshman Seminar classes. School officials interviewed students who reported they did little or no work in Escamilla's class.

“What we saw and heard from other students caused us great concern,” said Wake Schools’ spokesman Michael Evans.

The students also told school officials they often spent the majority of class time watching feature-length films and other videos, some of which did not have anything to do with courses. In one instance, students said they were told to write a book report on any book in the classroom, and the report did not have to be about a world history topic.

Another instance involved several questions on sex education on Escamilla's World History mid-term exam. Students said they received up to 50 points credit if students took books home over winter break and returned them upon their return.

Escamilla's personnel file also states that the teacher made derogatory comments to students based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion.

Escamilla said Wednesday that his teaching style is unconventional and his teaching performance for 18 years was never an issue.

"Not one of those years have I ever gotten any kind of remote unsatisfactory rating," he said. "All kinds of 'superiors,' 'well above average,' 'above average.' I haven't even gotten 'average.'"

Escamilla said much of the information in the personnel file was taken out of context. He said the sex education questions dealt with the worldwide AIDS crisis.

The information in Escamilla's personnel file was disclosed after the Wake County Board of Education decided Tuesday to release its details.

"We hope that it's enough to let the public know there are two sides to the issue," said school board member Patti Head.

"Given the level of misinformation being presented to the public by Mr. Escamilla and his representatives, this board felt it was absolutely necessary to take the steps to protect our integrity," Rosa Gill, chair of the Wake Board of Education, said Tuesday in a news release.

A recent curriculum audit raised questions about teacher evaluation. Auditors complained that evaluations lacked feedback and that most teachers received average or above-average ratings.

School officials said they are working to improve teacher evaluations. As for Escamilla, they said he's a good teacher with proven results in advanced history classes. He'll remain at the alternative high school, where the board says he'll have more supervision.

Superintendent Burns interviewed Escamilla when Burns was an assistant principal at Enloe. In his letter of reprimand, Burns said he remembers the young teacher as being full of promise.

Escamilla said he has not ruled out taking legal action against the school system.