Substitute teacher fired from Salem-Keizer after allegedly telling student “go back to Mexico”

Students enter Swegle Elementary on the first day of school in 2018. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A substitute teacher was fired by the Salem-Keizer district after students reported she told a fifth-grade student to “go back to Mexico” when he declined to say the Pledge of Allegiance on Tuesday.

Her comment was directed at Steven Zendejas, a Latino fifth-grader at Swegle Elementary.

Zendejas left class and reported the remark to the school’s assistant principal, who suspended the teacher from serving at Swegle, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said. The district ended her contract later that day.

Saying the Pledge of Allegiance is optional, Govus said.

Other students also reported the incident to the assistant principal. Parents at the school received a phone call

As a young person, it’s not easy to stand up to an adult, especially around something as hurtful as racial bias. Steven did the right thing and told adults he knew he could trust,” Govus said in a statement. “We pride ourselves on being a safe and welcoming school district for all students, and what this substitute teacher did is inexcusable and doesn’t align with our values. As such, this substitute will no longer work in our district.”

The teacher first worked for Salem-Keizer in 2017, and earned $23.39 per hour.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.