Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from a District 65 spokesperson.
Washington Elementary School Assistant Principal Carlos Mendez is currently on leave from work because of an allegation of inappropriate behavior made against him by a parent, he said during public comment at a District 65 school board committee meeting last week.
That parent, who was not named and not in attendance at the meeting, reported Mendez to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, according to Washington teacher assistant and paraprofessional union representative Kelliann McArthur.
Six teachers, staff members and PTA representatives also spoke at the same meeting in support of Mendez and against the allegations made by the parent, which they said were false.
No one elaborated on the specific accusations made against Mendez in their comments at the meeting, and a district spokesperson did not respond to an email from the RoundTable asking about the nature of the situation that Mendez is facing.
“Unfortunately, this year, there’s a small group of parents who are against our two Latinx leaders and two BIPOC [Black, Indigenous People of Color] children. I’m going to name it – it’s racism. This small group has slandered Carlos Mendez, petitioned to get a child removed from Washington School and, last year, even called the police on a BIPOC second grader,” said Washington fifth grade teacher Ruth Young, a 36-year veteran educator. “The racist slander perpetuated against Carlos has been completely disproven by building videos demonstrating how Carlos proactively helps students in crisis.”
In a letter written by Washington Principal Elizabeth Cardenas-Lopez and read by Mendez himself because Cardenas-Lopez could not be there in person, she said she was “appalled and heartbroken by the unjust and harmful accusations” against Mendez.
She also wrote that Mendez “has been put through an unjust and sickening investigation prompted by a parent who’s on a quest to have a Black student who’s having some social-emotional needs expelled from District 65.”
When asked by the RoundTable about any guidelines surrounding what a principal can and cannot say about an ongoing investigation, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education declined to comment.
PTA leadership did not answer questions from the RoundTable about a timeline for Mendez to return to work or for the completion of the investigation into Mendez.
Melissa Messinger, executive director of communications for District 65, told the RoundTable on Wednesday that Mendez “has been temporarily reassigned” while local and state authorities investigate the allegation against him. The district is “unable to share additional details” until the investigation is complete, according to Messinger.
“During this time, our District leadership team is providing the school with support for both students and staff,” she said. “With this collaboration, we are confident we can continue to provide instructional programming and emotional support to students so they can continue to learn and grow.”
PTA President Shannon Fujimora did say at the committee meeting that extra help the district has sent to Washington so far is great, but is “not enough” at the moment. The parent making false allegations against Mendez is “lying” because she and others in the Washington community are not getting the support they are asking for, Fujimora said.
“As I told Carlos, we really missed him today. Today was bad,” McArthur said, quoting a letter that she had written and that was cosigned by all paraprofessionals at Washington. “He is an integral part of our school community, and we all suffer every day that he is not there with us. We write this letter in the sincere hope that you will reinstate him immediately so he can continue to help make Washington School the best school in District 65.”
Mr. Mendez was professional and caring in his support of our granddaughter who attended at Washington last year. He went over and above to accommodate our granddaughter for safety from bullying. He made her feel safe. As a former educator and grandparent, I have much respect for the proactive and caring efforts he exhibits for students.
Thank you the informative article regarding Carlos Mendez. I am so upset to read what is happening to him. I have two grandchildren that attended Washington that had an amazing experience. Their father is a teacher elsewhere and has commented the quality of the of the administration and teaching staff at Washington.. The support of Mr. Mendez’s colleagues illustrates what an exceptional educator he is.
I don’t know the specifics of this case, however I’m not surprised to learn that the District’s new discipline policy is creating chaos among administrators, parents, and the Board of Ed. I would consider anyone who cares to read my post on the subject.
It is a confusing maze of hearings, documentation, and race/gender identity prioritization that seems like a future legal entanglement involving the equal protection clause.