Teacher says she was fired for standing up for bullied student

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PHOENIX, Ariz. (KPHO) – An Arizona teacher says she was fired for defending a student who was being bullied on the playground.

Pam Aister spent 25 years as a teacher in the Fountain Hills Unified School District.

Monday, she was fired as a fourth-grade teacher after being removed from the classroom in May.

Aister said she was defending an African-American student who was being bullied by five other boys who had continually picked on him in the past.

“You belong to a zoo,’ ‘stupid head,’ ‘monkey,’ ‘crackhead,” said Malachi Gillis, remembering some of the names he was called by other students.

Gillis, 9, says he was regularly bullied since starting at Four Peaks Elementary School.

“He was being bullied and nobody was doing anything,” said Jennifer Gillis, Malachi’s mother.

Gillis said she and her son both spoke with teachers, the principal and even a playground monitor to ask for help.

“They would usually say, ‘Oh well, I’m going to let him off with a warning,” Malachi said. “Either that, or they would just ignore me.”

Malachi switched classes and was moved to Aister’s classroom, but the bullies never relented.

One day on the playground, the bullies surrounded him.

“They were all around me and they started throwing rocks,” he said.

That’s when Aister stepped in.

“[Malachi] is in my room now. He is not alone. When you pick on him, you pick on me. It is not five to one anymore. It is five to two. There will be no more taunting, teasing and racial names called. That is not acceptable here; do you understand?” Aister recalled during a special meeting on Monday.

According to a report by a district-appointed hearing officer, the mother of one of the students complained, and Aister’s behavior was found to be threatening.

The officer recommended that Aister be fired because she would not take responsibility for her misconduct.

“I am terribly disappointed,” she said. “I can’t believe they would believe lies. I hate to go out on lies.”

“That makes me beyond mad because why is she being fired for something she is supposed to do?” Jennifer Gillis asked. “She’s supposed to be standing up for the students. They didn’t like it, so it turned into her threatening the kids because she stood up for this one black child in her class.”

Other parents supported the board’s decision.

“In this instance, these parents, everyone knowing what they know about her reputation and knowing there was actual proof and knowing there was more than one witness, felt that this was their opportunity to finally bring to light the way that she treats certain children,” said Nicole Perkins, whose children attend the elementary school.

According to the Arizona Republic, a statement released by the district says there was no evidence racial slurs were ever used by the children.

“So what is most unfortunate is that a group of young students is made to sit by as they are unjustly labeled and maligned as racists, bullies and now liars,” the district statement says. “Such mistreatment of these students, or of any student, is wholly inconsistent with the district’s values and missions.”

The report by the hearing officer said Aister believed four students were targeting Malachi.

However, it claims Malachi was taunting the other students over a class contest.

Malachi says he hopes Aister returns to the classroom, but not at Four Peaks.

He has since been enrolled in a different district.