LEAGUE CITY — Two popular Clear Creek school district elementary school teachers resigned under pressure Monday, hours before the school board was to consider firing them.
The veteran Gilmore Elementary teachers were under investigation for their role in letting a student leave campus with her father in violation of a custody order.
Wendy Mize, a third-grade teacher, and second-grade teacher Jennifer Marquez have been off the job since classes resumed after the holidays. While the district would not release the teachers’ names, The Daily News confirmed their names through a petition effort started by parents and friends of the teachers and through copies of their resignation letters.
Even though the teachers’ resignations are not effective until March and April, they will remain on administrative leave and will not return to the classroom, a district spokeswoman said.
The teachers’ supporters launched a petition drive and spoke out against termination plans during Monday’s school board meeting. Many argued that their children’s lives were disrupted by the abrupt — and unexplained — absence of the teachers from the classroom.
They also demanded the district provide more details as to why the teachers should lose their jobs.
Those parents argued that while the pair may have failed to follow district policy, it was an innocent mistake and shouldn’t cost jobs.
An investigation by the district alleges it was more than a simple mistake.
The turmoil stems from a Dec. 19 incident when the father of a Gilmore second grader showed up at the school to pick up his daughter before school was dismissed for the Christmas holidays. A court custody order on file in the school’s front office designated which parent could take the child out of school on different days.
On that particular day, the mother had authorization to pick up the girl, not the father.
Policy dictates that a child can be released only after the parent checks in at the front office. Campus administrators are supposed to confirm whether the child can be released to that parent.
On that day, the father did not check into the office. He instead went through the teachers to get his daughter.
One of the teachers, Mize, is the father’s fiancé.
According to the father’s attorney, he and the girl’s mother had agreed, by email, to a change in the custodial arrangement for that day.
Christina Tillinger, an attorney who represents the father in his custody case, confirmed that her client and the mother had reached an agreement. Under the side agreement, the father would pick up the girl a day early for the holidays in exchange for the mother keeping the child an extra day later.
The school district was not informed of any changes.
Even so, the policy requires that in instances that involve a court order — as was this case — any changes would have to be submitted to the school in writing, district spokeswoman Elaina Polsen said.
Even then, Polsen said, the proper checkout procedures weren’t followed.
The district’s investigation found that Mize assisted the father in getting the girl out of Marquez’s class.
In their defense to district officials, the teachers denied they purposely tried to subvert district policy or the court order.
Attempts to reach the teachers for comment were unsuccessful.
The mother filed a complaint with the school, which led to an administrative investigation. Attempts to reach the mother were not successful.
The district said the investigation found that policy was willfully violated despite the side agreement.
“(The) two teachers did not comply with district and campus procedures for releasing a child from campus,” Polsen said in a written statement. “We take matters of school security seriously ... it is important that the public is aware of the district’s position on matters involving children’s safety as well as the district’s policies and procedures for student checkout.”
Tillinger argued that the district’s policy took away the parents’ rights to make side agreements, which are allowed under the court order.
“(The district) by taking this hardline approach does a disservice to the parents of our county,” she said.
A few hours before the teachers faced possible termination Monday, they tendered their resignations. In copies of the resignations, obtained by The Daily News through the Texas Public Information Act, Mize, who taught in the district for 12 years, resigns on March 20. Marquez, an eight-year Clear Creek teacher, is set to resign April 14.
Polsen said a letter outlining the district’s actions would be sent to parents today.