I appeared in front of the RRPS Board a couple of weeks ago, as covered by this esteemed paper. I’m writing to follow up on some of the things written in that article. I taught at Cleveland High School from 2013-22. I have many friends near and dear to me that still work there. I taught many students who still attend school there. They all deserve better.

Something is rotten at CHS. I’m sure it’s been that way for a while, building slowly until I could no longer stomach it. Maybe the first time I was acutely aware of the stench was when my husband, a Jewish man, was asked if he would mind teaching with a new teacher or if they should put the new guy in a different department. Why? He’d been fired from his previous job over antisemitic emails. They did end up putting him in another department, but he was hired.

A teacher down the hall from me made racist comments about Native Americans. Another one talked badly about Black people. Antisemitic comments, sexist comments, homophobic comments … Call them out to their faces and they act offended, start bad-mouthing you to others. Talk to admin and you’re told to drop the issue, to shut up and sit down or you’re going to end up in trouble. Those teachers are still at CHS, still making the same comments.

I quit teaching after a student dressed as a Nazi in 2021. I contacted several members of CHS administration, the union, human resources, and others at the district office level. In the end, I was told the issue was one of free speech and that the issue had been dealt with as a dress code issue. While many people sympathized, no one was able to overrule Mr. Affentranger.

We had a literal Nazi walking around campus. Not a political statement, not a funny trope: Someone dressed up as an officer of the government that oversaw the abuse and murder of millions of people.

What’s the point of complaining? Eventually you’re labeled a troublemaker and called in and chastised. I chose to resign and focus my efforts on helping students in other ways.

When I resigned, I had an exit interview. I told HR (again) that this “Nazi issue” was the reason I was leaving — that I couldn’t sit by and teach at a school where that sort of thing happened, where I wouldn’t feel safe sending my own child. I was told my testimony would be shared with Dr. Cleveland.

I gave a suggestion for sending out an anonymous staff survey, but I have a better idea that involves the students who are directly affected by the racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful things they encounter on a daily basis. Do some focus groups: Simply bring in groups of kids and ask them, “So, tell me what your experience here has been like.” Just sit back and listen — and then, for the love of God, actually DO something about it.

Mary Bissell

Rio Rancho